THE BIBLE AND THE UNIVERSITY
James P. Wind
SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2011 with funding from
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HARPER COLLEGE LIBRARY
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HARPER COLLEGE LIBRARY
ALGONQUIN & ROSELLE ROADS
PALATINE, ILLINOIS 60067
THE BIBLE AND THE UNIVERSITY
SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERA TURE
BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP IN NORTH AMERICA
Kent Harold Richards, Editor
Frank Chamberlain Porter: Pioneer in American
Benjamin Wisner Bacon: Pioneer in American
A Fragile Craft: The Work of Amos Niven
Edgar Johnson Goodspeed: Articulate Scholar
Shirley Jackson Case and the Chicago School:
The Socio- Historical Method
Humanizing America's Iconic Book: Society
of Biblical Literature Centennial Addresses 1980
A History of Biblical Studies in Canada:
A Sense of Proportion
Searching the Scriptures: A History of the
Society of Biblical Literature, 1880-1980
Horace Bushnell: On the Vitality
of Biblical Language
Feminist Perspectives on Biblical Scholarship
Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough:
A Personal Pilgrimage
The Pennsylvania Tradition ofSemitics
The Bible and the University
Roy A. Harrisville
Roy A. Harrisville
John Dominic Crossan
James I. Cook
William J. Hynes
Gene M. Tucker and
Douglas A. Knight, editors
John S. Moir
Ernest W. Saunders
James O. Duke
Adela Yarbro Collins, editor
Robert S. Eccles
Cyrus H. Gordon
James P. Wind
The Bible and the University
The Messianic Vision of
William Rainey Harper
James P. Wind
SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE
Paul J. Achtemeier, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond .Virginia
Adela Yarbro Collins, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois
Eldon Jay Epp, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Qhio
Edwin S. Gaustad, University of California, Riverside, California
E. Brooks Holifield, Emory University, Adanta, Georgia
Douglas A. Knight, Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, Tennessee
George W. MacRae, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Harry M. Orlinsky, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York
Kent Harold Richards, Chair, The Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado
Gene M. Tucker, Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia
Maurya P. Horgan, Associate Editor, Denver
Paul J. Kobelski, Associate Editor, Denver
The Society of Biblical Literature gratefully acknowledges a grant from
the National Endowment for the Humanities to underwrite certain
editorial and research expenses of the Centennial Publications Series.
Published results and interpretations do not necessarily represent the
view of the Endowment.
Society of Biblical Literature
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Wind, James P., 1948
The Bible and the university
(Biblical scholarship in North America / Society
of Biblical Literature ; no. 16)
Revision of thesis (Ph. D.) — University of Chicago,
1. Harper, William Rainey, 1956-1906. 2. College
presidents — Illinois — Biography. 3. Church and college-
United States. I. Title. II. Series: Biblical
scholarship in North America ; no. 16.
LD925 1891.W56 1986 378M11[B] 87-9485
ISBN 1-55540-129-5 (alk. paper)
ISBN 1-55540-130-9 (pbk. : alk. paper)
spouse and partner
My family, friends and teachers have made more contributions to the
scholarship behind this volume than I can ever properly acknowledge. As
professor, friend, and dissertation advisor, Martin E. Marty has been both a
master teacher of the history of Christianity and a winsome exemplar of the
art of telling a story well. My interest in the modern American part of the
religious story is only one of many debts I owe him.
Jerald C Brauer and Neil Harris strengthened the earlier dissertation
version of this manuscript by pressing critical and often unexpected ques-
tions. I hope that advisor and readers can recognize their contributions in the
pages that follow. Robert W. Lynn of the Lilly Endowment, Inc., is the
person who first suggested that I "look at Harper." I am grateful for his early
advice and subsequent interest.
Ralph W. Loew of the Chautauqua Institution provided entry to
Chautauqua's Archives and a comfortable week's lodging at its Hall of
Missions. The cordial staff of the Special Collections Department of Joseph
Regenstein Library of The University of Chicago carted numerous boxes of
papers and pointed out additional sources of information. Linda-Marie
Delloff of The Christian Century made many helpful editorial suggestions,
as did Harry M. Orlinsky of Hebrew Union College. Kent Harold Richards
of the Society of Biblical Literature has been a kind and supportive series
editor. Toby Resnick and Kathleen Cahalan proved to be exceptional typists
in the face of pressing deadlines and heavily edited copy. Finally, I must
thank my wife, Kathleen, who has lived with this book and its author as
spouse, critic, and encourager. In many ways it is her accomplishment, too.
The best way to express my gratitude to each of these people is to bring the
project to completion so that others may benefit from their contributions.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. AMERICA IN TRANSITION
A New America
The Revolution in Higher Education
2. THE DEVELOPING VISION 27
The College on the Hill
The New World of Scholarship
Choosing a Baptist World
The Hebrew Profession
The Chautauqua Vision
The Yale Professor
3. SHAPING A NEW BIBLICAL WORLD 49
Placing the Biblical Scholar
A New Biblical World
The Harper Hermeneutic
The Scientific Study of the Scriptures
A New Argument for the Inspiration of Scriptures
The Invisible Role of Religious Experience
Harper's Place Within the World of Biblical Scholarship
4. THE CRITICAL REFORMATION 81
The Bible Study Movement
The Sunday School
The Public Grade School
The College Curriculum
5. THE UNIVERSITY AND THE RELIGION OF
Sources for the Vision
A New Institution
The Messianic Role of the University
Religion in the University
The American Age
The Biblical Integrator
6. ASSESSING A VISION 147
The Big Barnum of Eureka University
"Education F.O.B. Chicago"
The Captain of Erudition
The Veblenesque Legacy
From Voluntaryism to Professionalism
The Quest for the Great Community
The Problem of Progress
The Transformation of American Religion
The Invisible Vision
The Cultured Transformer
Placing A President
The visitor to the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in
Washington, D.C., cannot wander in the church's nave for long without
discovering in one of its south bays the crypt of Woodrow Wilson, twenty-
seventh president of the United States, formerly professor and president of
Princeton University. The carved stone and its impressive location in the
midst of stained glass and soaring arches testify that President Wilson has not
been forgotten. As generations of pilgrims take their turns around the
sanctuary, they are reminded that this individual was unusual, that what he
did and did not do earned him a place in the collective consciousness of a
The same visitor could roam the interior of Rockefeller Chapel at the
University of Chicago and never know that within its walls rest the remains
of another of America's most significant university presidents, a man who,
according to some, might have become the nation's president. 1 If, by
accident, the tourist wandered behind the elaborate wood and stone reredos
of the Chapel chancel and followed the perambulatory, she would find a
solitary spodight illuminating a section of bare cinder block wall. Above the
folding chairs the explorer's eye might linger over several metal plates and
words carved into stone: "HIC IACET PRAESIDUM SUORUMQUE
CINERES." The ashes of four university presidents and their wives are
interred in this obscure resting place. Ten feet up the wall, set off by a stone
border and given a little more prominence than the others, is a plaque
inscribed in memory of William Rainey Harper, the university's first presi-
The prominent spot in the obscure location is illustrative of the "prom-
inent obscurity" which surrounds the name of William Rainey Harper.
Important enough to have streets, libraries, high schools and junior colleges
bear his name, Harper nonetheless remains hidden in the back corridors of
American intellectual, religious and institutional history. The source of
1 The Reverend Philip A. Nordell, Pastor of First Baptist Church, New London,
Connecticut, attempted to dissuade Harper from accepting the presidency of the Univer-
sity of Chicago in an April 28, 1888 personal letter. One of his arguments was, "I would not
be surprised to hear you mentioned as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States
this fall." The letter is a part of the Joseph L. Regenstein Library Collection of the Personal
Papers of William Rainey Harper (hereafter Personal Papers), Box I, Folder 5.
2 The Bible and the University
much amusing lore, invoked whenever his university wants to touch its
roots, Chicago's first president remains a hazy eminence within the quad-
rangles of the institution he designed and built.
During the years of his presidency, William Rainey Harper was a figure
of national, even international, importance. Conductors stopped trains for
him; newspapers reported his speeches, and, near the end of his life, carried
bulletins about his health. His advice was sought by numerous university
and national leaders. Articles under his byline appeared in popular and
scholarly publications throughout the land. People wrote to him about their
religious problems and filled lecture halls across the country when he came
to speak. Colleagues in his Baptist denomination regarded him as their
national representative. Scholars in the emerging profession of Old Testa-
ment Studies looked to Harper as their dean. At the time of his premature
death from cancer in 1906, tributes came from leaders in education, scholars
of biblical literature, students, captains of industry such as Andrew Carnegie
and John D. Rockefeller, diplomats and national leaders, all of whom viewed
Harper as a shining star on the horizon of American intellectual life.
Eighty years after his death, Harper holds no such prominent place.
Once a leader of liberal Protestantism, he is barely mentioned in standard
histories of American religion. 2 His role as a pioneer of Semitic Studies and
professional analysis of the Old Testament remains unappreciated. 3 One of
2 Harper is not mentioned in Paul A. Carter's The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age
(DeKalb, 111.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971), Robert T. Handy's A Christian
America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (New York: Oxford University Press,
1971), William R. Hutchison's The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), or Martin E. Marty's Righteous Empire: The
Protestant Experience in America (New York: The Dial Press, 1970). He receives scant
notice in Sydney E. Ahlstrom's A Religious History of the American People, 2 vols.
(Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1975) and Winthrop S. Hudson's Religion in America, 3d
ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981).
3 This is partly due to the fact that there is no adequate history of American biblical
scholarship. Jerry Wayne Brown covers antebellum New England in The Rise ofRiblical
Criticism in America, 1800-1870: The New England Scholars (Middletown, Conn.:
Wesleyan University Press, 1969), but the work stands almost alone in an unexplored field.
Ira V. Brown assessed the latter part of the century and noted Harper's role as "organizer"
of the critical studies movement in "The Higher Criticism Comes to America, 1880-1900,"
Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society 38 (December 1960): 193-212. In "The
Watershed of the American Biblical Tradition: The Chicago School, First Phase,
1892-1920" (Journal of Biblical Literature 95 [March 1976]), Robert Funk suggested that
Harper founded one of "two dynasties" of biblical scholarship at his university. Funk
believed that Harper's colleague, Ernest DeWitt Burton founded a more dominant
tradition which was less "orthodox" than Harper's approach (pp. 4-22). Funk's argument is
discussed below, pp. 131ff. More recendy Thomas H. Olbricht, Charles R. Kniker, and
Grant Wacker advanced the study of late nineteenth century biblical criticism in individual
essays on the subject. Olbricht's "Intellectual Ferment and Instruction in the Scripture:
The Bible in Higher Education" and Kniker's "New Attitudes and New Curricula: The
Changing Role of the Bible in Protestant Education, 1880-1920," both appear in The Rible
a generation of great university presidents, Harper has received only slight
attention from historians of higher education in America. 4
A few attempts have been made to keep Harper visible on the modern
horizon. Harper's friend and long-time colleague, Thomas Wakefield
Goodspeed, authored an admiring biography twenty years after the presi-
dent's death. 5 The only other attempt at anything more than the briefest of
biographical sketches was Milton Mayer's Young Man in a Hurry, written in
1957. 6 Both works succumb to the mystique which surrounds Harper's
amazing energy and talent and do little to assess the lasting significance of
their focal figure.
Several monographs concentrate on specific facets of Harper's work, but
no attempt has been made to grasp his fundamental ideas or vision. Gale W.
Engle, for example, analyzed Harper's academic design from a structural
functional perspective, but paid no attention to the religious underpinnings
of the plan. 7 Kenneth Nathaniel Beck explored the history of the American
Institute of Sacred Literature, a favored Harper enterprise, but restricted his
attention to one part of the Harper picture. 8 Lars Hoffman gave special
in American Education: From Source Book to Textbook (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,
1982), ed. David L. Barr and Nicholas Piediscalzi. Wacker's "The Demise of Biblical
Civilization" appears in Nathan O. Hatch and Mark A. Noll, eds., The Bible in America:
Essays in Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). A synthetic work
which can integrate the subplots of the complicated biblical critical story in America is still
4 An exception is Laurence R. Veysey, who treats Harper as exemplar of "the tendency to
blend and reconcile" in later nineteenth century America. Because he views Harper as
representative of the second generation of American university presidents who are
important for their administrative innovations and not for their larger visions, he overlooks
much of Harper's significance. Veysey is representative of a pervasive tendency to see
religion primarily as a negative element in the university story. Because of that perspective,
the religious character of Harper's effort remains unnoticed. The Emergence of the
American University (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), pp. 360-80, viii, 21-56.
President Harper is cited only in passing in other standard histories. For example, see
Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University (New York: Vintage Books,
1962), pp. 349-52. Harper is named only twice in Burton J. Bledstein, The Culture of
Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1976) and Christopher Jencks and David
Reisman, The Academic Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968). Merle
Curti does not mention him in The Social Ideas of American Educators (Totowa, N.J.:
Litdefield, Adams Co., 1978).
5 Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper: First President of the Univer-
sity of Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928).
6 Milton Mayer, Young Man in a Hurry: The Story of William Rainey Harper, First
President of the University of Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago, Alumni Associa-
7 Gale W. Engle, "William Rainey Harper's Conceptions of the Structuring of the
Functions Performed by Educational Institutions" (Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford Univer-
8 Kenneth Nathaniel Beck, "The American Institute of Sacred Literature: A Historical
4 The Bible and the University
attention to the relationship between Harper and his Baptist colleagues,
highlighting political constraints which the denomination placed upon the
president. 9 Harper's view of science was the subject of a dissertation by
Lincoln C. Blake. 10 The story of Harper's greatest creation, the University of
Chicago, has emerged in an admiring history by Goodspeed and a more
recent and critical work by Richard J. Storr. 11 Each of these scholars
examined a facet of Harper's legacy; none made a coherent whole out of his
William Rainey Harper will not receive his appropriate place in Amer-
ican religious and intellectual history until the integrating vision that
supported his varied activities and enterprises is discovered and evaluated.
Interrupted by death in mid-career, Harper failed to leave a cohesive
statement of his vision. To find it, we will examine his career in a manner
which Harper would have approved. By gathering the facts of his life and
work and searching the data for fundamental ideas, we can inductively
discover the overarching canopy — a sacred one — which integrated frag-
ments of the person and his work.
In the Hebrew Scriptures Harper found the raw material that provided
the ground of his personal beliefs, the field of his professional competence
and the paradigm for reshaping education in America. Within those cher-
ished texts, Harper discerned a God at work in history lifting humanity
toward a still to be realized "higher life." 12 The most fundamental idea of all
for him was that God moves some to suffer vicariously for others. 13 Israel
suffered for the scattered nations; Jesus suffered for a fallen humanity; the
biblical scholar struggled to provide new meaning for suffering moderns;
and the university, in its grappling with the great problems of the ages, was
called to suffer for society in order that all its members might ascend to
higher life. Ultimately Harper's vision was messianic. He traced the messi-
anic idea from its prophetic origins up to its application in his day; indeed he
Analysis of An Adult Education Institution" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago,
9 Lars Hoffman, "William Rainey Harper and the Chicago Fellowship" (Ph.D. disserta-
tion, University of Iowa, 1978).
10 Lincoln C. Blake, "The Concept and Development of Science at The University of
Chicago 1890-1905" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1966).
11 Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, A History of The University of Chicago: The First
Quarter Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), and Richard J. Storr,
Harper's University: The Beginnings (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).
12 The "higher life" lured Harper. He, in turn, frequendy dangled that notion before his
contemporaries. See, for example, his collected essays in Religion and the Higher Life
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904).
13 William Rainey Harper, "The Prophetic Element in the Old Testament as Related to
Christianity," manuscript of unpublished lectures (Personal Papers, Box 16, Folder 9), pp.
could claim without batting an exegetical eye — that the university was
While he never claimed that role for himself, Harper lived by the
messianic vision. He drove himself relentlessly. Often up and at his desk by
4:00 a.m., he extended his working day until 10:30 or 11:00 at night.
Vacations were spent running summer schools in Chicago and commuting to
New York's Chautauqua, where he directed the most prominent of America's
late nineteenth-century ventures into popular education. Personal corre-
spondence reveals that while many thought him a super-human dynamo, the
reality was more grim. Continually beset by "La Grippe," Harper would be
confined to bed one day only to race through his hectic schedule the next.
Even cancer could not break his commitment to push himself to the limits.
On one occasion he mentioned to the president of the Board of Trustees of
the University of Chicago that he had suffered for twenty years before his
doctor discovered his malady. 15 After the "sentence of execution" had been
spoken in 1905, 16 Harper went back to work completing a commentary on
Amos and Hosea for the International Critical Commentary Series while
administering the university. Still corresponding in the last week of his life,
Harper planned his funeral service down to such details as cots for the honor
guard who would keep the night watch over his casket. 17
This fundamental vision of divinely led vicarious suffering integrated all
of Harper's activities. He shuttled between Chautauqua and the University
of Chicago because he perceived the popular work of the one to be in a vital
world-transforming relationship with the research of the other. It made sense
to him to run the University of Chicago out of one room in Haskell Hall on
the campus and to administer the American Institute of Sacred Literature out
of the office next door. During the week President Harper taught Hebrew in
the university's Semitics Department; on Sundays he supervised the Sunday
School of Hyde Park Baptist Church. He planned the Yerkes Observatory,
figured out during office hours how to fund it, and then retired to his study
at night to edit articles for the Biblical World. All of these efforts, though
taking their toll on him, he understood as for the nation's sake.
More than simply deciding to found and edit publications dealing with
biblical subjects, Harper discovered and lived in a biblical world. By means
of inductive and scientific study of the Scriptures, he found a way to
reappropriate their message for his age. His lifework, although conducted in
14 William Rainey Harper, "The University and Democracy," The Trend in Higher
Education in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1905), p. 12.
15 William Rainey Harper to Martin A. Ryerson, March 26, 1904, Personal Papers, Box 16,
16 The phrase is contained in a letter from Harper to Mrs. J.C. Johnson, February 17, 1905,
Personal Papers, Box 1, Folder 20.
17 "Arrangements for the Funeral of President Harper," p. 7, Personal Papers, Box 16,
6 The Bible and the University
many different arenas and enterprises, was devoted to offering a vision for
America that was fundamentally biblical, without being archaic. At the
beginning of his career he announced the creation of a Hebrew "move-
ment," an attempt to revitalize Old Testament studies. 18 As his horizons
expanded beyond teaching Semitics to include administering Chautauqua
and creating a new university for what was then the West, Harper never
wavered from his first fundamental commitment. The construction of the
University of Chicago cannot be understood as an effort in addition to, along
side of, or separate from his attempt to revitalize biblical study in America.
On the contrary, he built this university because of a commitment to a higher
life for the nation, rooted in a Bible critically studied and believed.
As Harper's career moved from seminary to university classroom to
president's office, the task remained fundamentally the same: to move the
Bible from the periphery of academic inquiry into prominence. Thus as a
young instructor on the south side of Chicago at Morgan Park Seminary, he
called in 1886 for an expanded place for biblical studies. Half the seminary
curriculum, he claimed, should be devoted to the Bible, studied in the
original languages and in English. 19 Two years later as professor at Yale
University he initiated lectures on the English Bible and soon was spear-
heading a movement to place the study of the Bible in the curricula of state
colleges and universities throughout the land. 20 When called to the presi-
dency of the new University of Chicago he placed the study of the Bible in
the mainstream of his curriculum. Before the new school opened, its
president announced that its first professional school would be Morgan Park
Seminary, renamed the Divinity School. To be certain that the Bible would
be a document valued by the whole university and not just the private book
of divinity scholars, Harper formed an independent Semitics Department
which took its place alongside other disciplines in the university. Sundays
on the university calendar were given to religious questions, guest lectures
and worship. Student attendance at weekday chapel in those early days was
mandatory, in keeping with the prevailing American collegiate pattern. But
Harper's vision always stretched further. Three years before his death, he
launched one last integrative effort. The Religious Education Association
was created to promote biblical studies for American people from infancy to
adulthood, with specialized programs for every educational and interest
In this book I intend to trace the development of Harper's vision from
smalltown beginnings to culmination in a revisioned religion for the Amer-
ican public. Chapter 1 sketches the social, educational and religious contexts
18 Harper first used the word "movement" to describe his activities in an editorial in The
Old Testament Student 5, no. 1 (September 1885):37.
19 Harper "Editorial," Old Testament Student 5, no. 8 (April 1886):321ff.
20 Herbert Lockwood Willett, "The Corridor of Years," unpublished autobiography, The
Archives of The Christian Century, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 91-96.
in which Harper created and subsequently fought for his vision. Chapter 2
follows Harper and the development of his ideas from his birthplace at New
Concord, Ohio, to his emergence as spokesman for biblical studies in
America. The specific content of his vision is the subject of Chapter 3.
Chapter 4 examines Harper's critical reformation of his generation's forms of
religious education. The incarnation of his biblical vision in the University
of Chicago, and the expansion of that vision to embrace all Americans, is the
subject of Chapter 5. Chapter 6 ponders the fate of Harper's vision, and
attempts to account for its now obscure place in American memory.
Much of what Harper attempted did not become a permanent part of
American religious and educational life. Daily chapel has disappeared from
the official schedule of the University of Chicago. The American Institute of
Sacred Literature ended its existence in 1948. Hyde Park Baptist Church is
no longer an advanced center for Sunday School teaching. The Religious
Education Association carries on as the organization of professional religious
educators but has abandoned pretensions to responsibility for all religious
education in America. The Hebrew movement, so dear to Harper's heart, has
ceased to be a popular passion though Hebrew has found its niche among all
the other specialized disciplines in American higher education. The criti-
cally studied Scriptures have not become the great integrator of society
which Harper believed they could be.
Yet a distinguished university stands, and the professional study of
Semitic languages takes place in the university context, ample warrants for
according Harper a prominent place in American educational history. His
significance, however, goes beyond these contributions to intellectual and
institutional history. He is important because he acted decisively at the
zenith of a period in American history when many believed that a new
American culture was in the making. In his era it was possible to build a
university from scratch, to start a journal with the money in one's own
pocket, to create a profession in one's own image. Harper is one of those
representative individuals who epitomize the tenor of a period. He was the
quintessential nineteenth century American evangelical liberal: optimistic,
progressive, biblical and open to the unfolding of his own culture. Harper's
labors were congruent with the dominant character of an era of American
Protestantism which H. Richard Niebuhr identified in his classic study, The
Kingdom of God in America. 21 In the lifting of a culture to the higher life
Harper sought to transform it into something more like the "coming"
kingdom proclaimed in the sacred Scriptures. He lived during the last
moments when Americans were able to believe, without second thoughts,
that their nation could be the messianic deliverer of the world. A decade
21 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper Torchbooks,
1959), pp. 127ff.
8 The Bible and the University
after his death, Americans would find themselves entangled in a brutal war,
one that crushed the spirit which Harper embodied.
American self-perceptions in the turbulent decades since the Great War
have become darker and less confident, a phenomenon which may help to
explain why Harper, and Wilson too, are so distant. They seem to belong in
out-of-the-way places, one more prominent than the other, because their
visions appear naive in the face of the world conditions we now encounter.
Yet, both our pluralistic nation and its evermore specialized worlds of
learning present needs for integration which are as pressing now as they
were the day of Harper's death. While late twentieth century readers may
not be capable of the optimism of that bygone era, they cannot escape a
similar pressure to bring coherence to a fragmented world. For those who
believe that coherence can devolve from a religious construction of reality,
and for those who contend for a biblically grounded world view, there are
yet more reasons for a serious reappraisal of Harper and his vision.
AMERICA IN TRANSITION
On Saturday, October 1, 1892, the University of Chicago unceremoni-
ously opened its doors with a day of classes, a chapel service and a faculty
meeting. "We were anxious to have the opening day so planned in advance
that everything would move as if the University had been in session ten
years," Harry Pratt Judson, then Head Dean of the Colleges and eventually
Harper's successor as president, later reminisced. 1 The appearance of
routine and normalcy could not mask newness, however. Judson recalled
watching students pass under scaffolding and listening to the sounds of
workmen in the halls on opening day. From its inception, the school was
"bran [sic] splinter new" 2 and everyone knew it.
At the first meeting of the university faculty, President Harper presented
a problem to his new colleagues: "The question before us is how to become
one in spirit, not necessarily in opinion." 3 Concern for oneness in the face of
increasing diversity was more than an academic matter for a new faculty. It
was the burden of a nation searching for oneness in the midst of unparalleled
change and increasing diversity. To understand Harper's solution for the
question he posed on opening day, it is necessary to survey the social,
educational and religious terrains where he labored.
A New America
The new university, rooted in the vision of its thirty-six-year-old presi-
dent, burst into life in an age dazzled by the new. The closing decade of the
nineteenth century capped a half century during which America had been
remade. Within fifty years the nation had divided into North and South,
fought a bitter war and reunited. The West was the lure of the period. People
trekked to the edge of the frontier and carried with them the American
1 Harry Pratt Judson, as quoted in Goodspeed's A History of the University of Chicago,
2 The phrase is contained in a September 22, 1890 letter from Harper to H.L. Morehouse
(Frederick T. Gates Papers), and is quoted in Robert Rosenthal, ed., One in Spirit
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), p. 19.
3 Harper's question is recorded in "Minutes of the First Faculty Meeting, October 1,
1892" (Marion Talbot Papers), and quoted ibid., p. 25.
10 The Bible and the University
burden of incorporating new reality into old ways of thought. One year after
the opening of the University of Chicago, Frederick Jackson Turner articu-
lated the dominant role of the frontier in shaping American thought and
action; ironically, he also noted its passing as the nation encountered
geographic limits. Turner wondered what the closing of the frontier would
mean for an America that had depended on it to fire its imagination and serve
as safety valve for its conflicts. 4
With railroad lines, barbed wire, Winchester rifles, balloon frame
houses, windmills and John Deere plows, Americans domesticated their
land and began to turn the North American wilderness into a great agricul-
tural garden. As the West was tamed, citizens also began to flock to a new
habitat which for many became a different kind of wilderness: the city.
Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Sr., in his magisterial The Rise of the City
1878-98, traced the contours of this momentous reshaping of American life.
The historian provided descriptions of startling possibilities and problems
for urban newcomers like Harper. For example, in 1890 one-fourth of the
people of Philadelphia, one-third of the inhabitants of Boston, and fully
four-fifths of those in greater New York City were either foreigners or
children of foreign-born parents. This meant that old-stock Americans like
Harper, whose ancestors had ventured to the New World in 1795, confronted
an unprecedented variety of languages and customs. Nervous, sometimes
violent outbursts of nativism often followed such encounters. The new reality
represented by these and other troubling indicators led Schlesinger to a
conclusion: America was experiencing a "clash of two cultures," urban and
rural. The nation was "trembling between two worlds, one rural and agricul-
tural, the other urban and industrial." A fateful transition had occurred: "tradi-
tional America gave way to a new America." 5
The impact of the arrival of 14,061,192 immigrants within the four
decades that closed the nineteenth century threatened cherished self-
understandings. 6 But if pressures felt as a result of new types of immigrants
and new styles of urban living seemed to break apart the America of the
founding fathers and mothers, other dynamics appeared to weave together
the unraveling threads of the republic and provide circumstances that
evoked and nurtured Harper's dream. The amazing inventiveness of Amer-
icans forged what Daniel J. Boorstin has named "the republic of technology"
out of scattering tribes and individuals. 7 One symbol of the new technolog-
4 Frederick Jackson Turner, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," The
Frontier in American History (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1920), pp. 1—38.
5 Arthur Meier Schlesinger, The Rise of the City 1878-1898 (New York: New Viewpoints,
1975), pp. 1, 76, 72-73, 355, 350, xii.
6 Sydney E. Ahlstrom provides a helpful summary of immigrant population statistics in A
Religious History of the American People, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1975),
7 Daniel T. Boorstin coined the phrase in a much more celebrative sense when
America in Transition 1 1
ical linkage was the coupling of Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad
tracks on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah. Other inventions like
Thomas Alva Edison's "talking machine," incandescent lamp, electric gen-
erator, and motion picture reshaped American habits and perceptions. The
booming growth in daily newspapers which increased in number from 971
in 1880 to 2226 by 1900, introduced people to worlds which were unknown
decades before. 8
Along with the growth of the city and the great leaps in technology
witnessed during the last half of the nineteenth century, there came two new
economic institutions which aided in reshaping America: the personal
fortune and the corporation. Both provided raw materials for Harper's
achievements. In 1870 John D. Rockefeller organized his oil holdings into
the Standard Oil Company of Ohio and began to consolidate a fortune that
would make him the richest man in America — the nation's first billionaire —
and prepare him for his role as founder of Harper's university. Banking and
railroad tycoon John Pierpont Morgan restructured American economic
reality in 1901 with the creation of the first billion-dollar corporation — U.S.
Steel. With these great financial empires came new developments like
organized philanthropy (the Rockefeller Foundation), the problems of mo-
nopoly, and the standardization of finance and industry. In addition, people
like the Mellons and the Vanderbilts became arbiters of taste and custodians
of culture as they built museums, libraries, and universities. 9
If, as Hansfried Kellner and Brigitte and Peter Berger assert, the primary
carriers of modernity are technological production and the bureaucratic
state, 10 then modernity had largely arrived. The demands of the city and a
rapidly technologizing and industrializing nation called for new and more
complex institutional responses to human needs. Robert H. Wiebe has
labeled the period of transition from independent antebellum America to the
emergent interdependence of modernity a "search for order." 11
describing the future of America in The Republic of Technology: Reflections on Our Future
Community (New York: Harper & Row, 1978).
8 Schlesinger, Rise of the City, p. 185.
9 Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz traces the history of wealthy philanthropists and their
attempts to provide culture for the city of Chicago in Culture and the City: Cultural
Philanthropy in Chicago from 1880s to 1917 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,
1976). Harper's relations to several of the Chicago cultural elite and their institutions are
given considerable attention, pp. 157fF. Oscar and Mary Handlin have tracked the seismic
shift in wealth in America in The Wealth of the American People (New York: McGraw-Hill
Book Company, 1975). They found that prior to the Civil War $100,000 was a "substantial
fortune." By their count twenty-five New Yorkers and nine Philadelphians comprised the
super-rich category of ante-bellum millionaires. By 1890 the number of millionaires had
increased to 3000 and a great fortune was "one of a hundred million dollars" (p. 162).
10 Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner, The Homeless Mind: Moderniza-
tion and Consciousness (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), p. 103.
11 Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967).
12 The Bible and the University
Perplexed by a variety of social problems, Americans lined up behind
reformers who offered new solutions such as a civil service approach to
government, regulations for child employment, a standardized work week
and antitrust legislation. Political bosses became specialized manipulators of
the bewildering machinery of urban politics. Powerless in the face of huge
concentrations of wealth and impersonal machines, factory workers banded
together to form organizations like the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights
of Labor and the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions.
Important changes also occurred in racial and sexual patterns. Blacks
like Booker T. Washington left behind plantation slavery to struggle for
economic and social equality. Although legally free, they encountered a
"color line" so entrenched as to move articulate representatives like W.E.B.
DuBois to offer radical criticism of the social order. 12
While black Americans sought new social spaces, American women took
their places in the work force in larger numbers. Two and one-half million
women out of a national population of 50,155,783 labored outside their
homes in 1880. By 1900 there were 75,994,575 Americans and the number of
employed women had more than doubled. 13 The women's suffrage move-
ment, along with the temperance cause, provided era-long evidence that
women were assuming new roles in politics as well. With these changes
came others of a more painful nature. For example, divorces tripled between
1878 and 1898; and by 1890 there was one divorce granted for every sixteen
marriages performed. 14
Within fifty years the daily lives of many American citizens had been
transformed. Immigrants adrift in the sea of faces at Ellis Island and
small-town parents watching children follow the lure of the city experienced
different, though equally intense varieties of social dislocation.
But the turmoil of the age was only part of the story. In the midst of
confusion and uncertainty Americans seized opportunities to reshape the
nation. Symphony orchestras were born, a distinctively American architec-
ture appeared, and American literature blossomed. Like William Rainey
Harper, Theodore Thomas, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Twain and Francis
Willard were representatives of the effervescence of American creativity
fostered in these decades of transition. While there is ample warrant for Paul
Carter to title his history of the period The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age,
12 Booker T. Washington recounted his version of the transit from slavery to freedom in Up
From Slavery, introduced by Louis Lomax (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1965).
The agony of encounter with the "color line" received powerful articulation in W.E.
Burghardt DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, introduced by Saunders Redding (Greenwich,
Conn.: Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1961).
13 The Cosmopolitan World Atlas (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1978) summarizes U.S.
Census data on page 153. The statistics about employed women are from Schlesinger, Rise
of the City, p. 142.
14 Ibid., p. 154.
America in Transition 13
there is also reason for William G. McLoughlin to describe the era as
"America's Third Great Awakening." 15 The age can be understood only if
trauma and revitalization are held in tension. Old ways of life came undone,
but visions which would have been dismissed as impossible only a century
earlier were realized. In no phase of American life was this dynamism more
evident than in the world of education.
The Revolution in Higher Education
From its beginning with the founding of Harvard College in 1636,
American higher education had been sylvan and clerically dominated.
Gardens for the cultivation of gendemen in the American wilderness, early
colleges were clerical preserves dedicated to training young males to carry
on a way of life. Harvard set the pattern. The college's first commencement
program proclaimed its purpose: "to advance Learning and perpetuate it to
Posterity." Beneath the noble commitment to learning lay a deeper concern.
The founders were afraid "to leave an illiterate Ministery [sic] to the
Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the Dust." 16
Harvard's Henry Dunster was the first in a long succession of American
college presidents who were clergymen. Along with a clerically dominated
board of overseers, Dunster and all succeeding clergy presidents of Ameri-
can colleges had the responsibility of leading young pupils through the
rigors of a "mental discipline" which produced people of good character. 17
The primary motive for the early colleges like Harvard, William and Mary,
Yale, and the College of New Jersey, was preparation of ministers for
America's fledgling churches. Although the schools soon opened their doors
wide to include other than budding churchmen, the clerical pattern pre-
vailed. Students were pushed through a curriculum dominated by the study
of Greek and Latin. In the last year of undergraduate work, these students
crowned their education with a course in "Moral Philosophy," usually
taught by the college president.
Despite attempts to remove learning from clerical auspices by Enlight-
enment advocates like Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson
at the University of Virginia and Thomas Cooper at the University of South
Carolina, the pattern held until after the Civil War. For more than two
centuries, citizens of American hamlets continued to build small colleges
which served as citadels for the clerically shepherded values of the commu-
15 Carter, The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age and William G. McLoughlin, Revivals,
Awakenings, and Reform (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 141-78.
16 The Harvard Commencement Program is quoted in Perry Miller, The New England
Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), p. 75.
17 The clerical pattern for American higher education is described in detail in Veysey, The
Emergence of the American University, pp. 9ff.
14 The Bible and the University
Within a decade of the Treaty at Appomattox it was clear that the old
pattern was fading. In his inaugural address delivered on October 11, 1871,
Yale's new president, the Rev. Noah Porter, expressed the concern of many.
America's institutions of higher education were "convulsed by a revolution."
Porter reported sharp criticism of "old methods and studies" and strong
demand "for sweeping and fundamental changes." 18
Not every student of the period accepts Porter's labeling of nineteenth
century changes in higher education as a "revolution," but there is little
resemblance between the small college pattern of antebellum America and
the complex universities constructed by people like Harper. Statistics tell
part of the story. In 1870 approximately 52,300 undergraduates matriculated
in American institutions. Twenty years later the student population had
almost tripled. And a new type of student emerged during these years.
Harper was part of a new generation of graduate students that signaled the
passing of the old college model. Between 1870 and 1900 total graduate
enrollments increased from 50 to almost 6,000. Professional education (also
championed by Harper) came of age during the period. The legal profession,
for example, mustered only 150 students in 1833; but by the beginning of the
first World War there were 140 schools preparing almost 20,000 students for
legal careers. 19
In 1861 Yale University awarded the first American Ph.D. degree. It was
not the first American post-baccalaureate degree, but it was the first for
specialized study. Previously American colleges had followed a pattern
begun in 1692 when Harvard awarded its president, the Rev. Increase
Mather, an S.T.D., an honorary degree. 20 At first the Ph.D. was awarded both
for specialized study and to bestow honor on an individual. The academic
nature of the degree became more secure in 1900 when Harper led in
organizing the Association of American Universities to protect the degree's
The Ph.D. sat at the apex of the new edifice of learning which Harper
and other university builders constructed. In order to grasp the significance
of this new structure for Harper and his colleagues it is necessary to recall its
German origins and the earliest American experiences with it. The modern
German university was given its institutional shape by Wilhelm von
Humboldt who carried the ideas of his mentor, Friedrich August Wolf, into
the new structure of learning he erected at Berlin as Minister of Education.
At the core of Humboldt's model was Professor Wolfs revolutionary posing
18 Porter's address is quoted ibid., p. 1.
19 C. Wright Mills, Sociology and Pragmatism: The Higher Learning in America (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 51.
20 George Hunston Williams, Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought (New York:
Harper & Brothers, 1962), p. 152.
21 William Rainey Harper to Martin Ryerson, March 30, 1900, Personal Papers, Box 5,
America in Transition 15
in 1795 of the Homeric question as his life's work. Wolf invented the pattern
for "professional" scholarship by devoting his career to one question, that of
the authorship of the Homeric epics. 22 Under Humboldt's leadership, the
German university rapidly became an institution filled with such specialists.
These specialists gathered clusters of advanced students into seminars, and
research became the new enterprise of education. The badge of competence
in this specialized world of learning was the Ph.D. To Americans this new
system of education was as foreign as the language of its advocates.
But the lure of the research ideal was eventually to triumph over
American provincialism. In 1928 Charles F. Thwing estimated that nearly
ten thousand eager Americans pursued the holy grail of German scholarship
to its native source. Subsequent research has revised the number of Amer-
icans studying in Germany between 1820 and 1920 down to nine thousand,
still a remarkable figure in an age when sea travel remained arduous. 23
These wayfarers encountered ideas and institutions, as well as individuals,
which overwhelmed inherited patterns of teaching and learning.
Letters home from first-generation American innocents abroad indicate
the trauma of clashes between new German scholarship and old American
ways. Joseph Stevens Buckminster wrote his father of his despair of "attain-
ing ... to those views which you deem essential." 24 Prior to becoming the
first American to win the coveted German Ph.D. in 1817, Edward Everett
reported that something else had happened to him. If no one troubled him
he would not upset the faith of people, he claimed. But if anyone questioned
him too closely, "I will do what has never yet been done, — exhibit those
views of the subject of Christianity which the modern historical and critical
enquiries fully establish . . . ." 25 Everett was quite certain that the new
German scholarship allowed "no defence" for traditional ways of thinking.
George Bancroft, another Harvard-trained pilgrim and eventually the author
of the first national history of the United States, also described his German
experience. He wrote to Harvard's President Kirkland that the theologians
he encountered were quite different from the pious divines of New England.
They had no religious feeling, Bancroft complained, and their lectures were
filled with a "vulgarity" which was more appropriate to a "jailyard" or a
"fishmarket." It bothered him that biblical "narratives are laughed at as an
22 Carl Diehl, American and German Scholarship, 1770-1870 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale
University Press, 1978), pp. 47-48.
23 Charles F. Thwing, The American and the German University (New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1928), p. 40, as quoted in Jurgen Herbst, The German Historical
School in American Scholarship: A Study in the Transfer of Culture (Port Washington,
N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1965), p. 2 n. 1.
24 Buckminster is quoted in Jerry Wayne Brown, The Rise of Biblical Criticism in
America, 1800-1870: The New England Scholars (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univer-
sity Press, 1969), p. 18.
25 Everett is quoted ibid., 41.
16 The Bible and the University
old wife's tale, fit to be believed in the nursery." There was, the young
scholar believed, more religion in a few lines of Xenophon than in a whole
course of Eichorn. 26
The agony of these and other early American explorers of the German
university world was primarily religious. One way to account for their
difficulty is to point to the radical ideas of some of the German biblical
scholars. More was involved than new religious ideas, however. Critical
questioning of the Bible had occurred in America from the days when
America's quintessential Enlightenment figure, Thomas Jefferson, spent his
White House leisure time editing the New Testament and freeing it from
"amphibologisms." While students were undergoing crisis abroad, many
proper New Englanders who stayed home were viewing the dawn of a
Unitarianism that also challenged traditional Puritan notions.
Carl Diehl, in his examination of Americans and German Scholarship
1 770-1890, has argued persuasively that Americans in Germany encountered
much more than a few new ideas, however forcefully those ideas may have
been advocated. Rather, Americans also confronted a major cultural move-
ment, Neuhumanismus, which flourished in the new university institutions.
The Germans, following the lead of philologist Wolf, turned to a new
paradigm for facing their emergence as a Prussian nation. They rediscovered
the classical period and, through linguistic and historical study, shaped a
new view of the world. What traumatized the Americans, Diehl claimed, was
this larger cultural movement, still in robust days of a new scholarship for a
new Germany. 27
The Americans' quandary was that they could neither completely accept
nor reject what the Germans were doing. The German professors excelled at
scholarship; but they also represented a culture that Americans could not
assimilate. Bancroft described the tension:
Though I may not love the land of the learned, I certainly
wonder at them, and tho' I cannot value them very highly for moral
feeling, they still have very vigorous understandings, and tho' the
style of most German books is tedious, and void of beauty, still the
matter contained in them is wonderfully deep. A spirit of learning
pervades everything. Their works teem with citation, and have at
least the merit for the most part of being written by men who are
masters of their subject. 28
Because he was of a later generation and because his graduate education
took place at American Yale rather than on the Continent, Harper was spared
the traumatic collision of cultures felt by these pioneers in the world of
The Americans who went abroad to study in pre-war days and returned
26 Bancroft is quoted ibid., p. 34.
27 Diehl, Americans and Germans, pp. llff.
28 Bancroft is quoted ibid., pp. 88-89.
America in Transition 17
with their Ph.D.s did not find professions waiting for them. Everett and
Bancroft created careers in statecraft and history-writing, leaving their
academic studies behind. The significance of their career paths is that
despite trauma in Germany, they were exemplars of a kind of learning that
Americans both desired and did not know how to use.
As late as 1870, William Graham Sumner remarked that "there is no such
thing yet at Yale as an academical career." 29 American colleges still had no
room for specialized study. Daniel Coit Gilman, founding president of Johns
Hopkins, the first university in America which fully incorporated the
advanced German model, remembered days at Yale when he served as
librarian and professor of political and physical geography. He left Yale tired
of lighting the fire in the library every morning and not being allowed to hire
an assistant to help with his varied duties. If Yale, one of America's premier
colleges, demanded such generalism of its professors, then the idea of
specialization must have seemed most foreign to smaller colleges with fewer
As the legions of German-trained scholars returned to the U.S., they
found that America was gradually becoming more hospitable to specializa-
tion than it had been in the days of Everett and Bancroft. Transitions in the
larger society were reshaping the American academic environment until
what John Higham has termed a "matrix of specialization" emerged. 30 In
1869 the American Philological Association, founded by Harper's Yale
mentor, William Dwight Whitney, inaugurated a professional pattern of
organization soon to be followed by historians, mathematicians, and psychol-
ogists. A nation that had known only three professions — medicine, law, and
ministry — soon saw new ones coming into existence at a bewildering rate.
Beneath much of the professional explosion was the drive by academics to
create a new career in America: that of the professor. Previously teachers had
most often been on the way to or from the ministry. But they were now being
replaced with individuals who had special competence in one field, whether
economics or Sanskrit.
With the opening of the Johns Hopkins University in 1876, the modern
American university became established. Hopkins' President Gilman and
his mosdy Quaker board of trustees adopted much of the German model and
made it possible for true academic careers to develop. Indeed, Johns
Hopkins was the first American institution designed to be a graduate school;
and with that pivotal decision, the school's founders participated in what
29 Sumner is quoted in Veysey, Emergence of the American University, p. 6.
30 John Higham, "The Matrix of Specialization," The Organization of Knowledge in
Modern America, 1860-1920, Alexandra Oleson and John Voss, eds. (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University, 1979), p. 3.
18 The Bible and the University
Edward Shils has termed "perhaps the single most decisive event in the
history of learning in the Western Hemisphere." 31
The seminar, which was to become another key component in Harper's
model of learning, was introduced to America at the University of Michigan
by Charles Kendall Adams in 1869, but it did not emerge into prominence
until specialists like Herbert Baxter Adams and others of the Johns Hopkins
faculty enshrined it in their new institution. 32 The seminar method implied
new assumptions about teaching and learning, and about knowledge itself.
Colonial notions of passing on a way of life and a received tradition fell
before the belief that research was a never-ending task. There were no final
solutions to intellectual questions; truth was continually discovered, not
deposited once and for all in time-proof tomes. At the base of the seminar
approach was a desire to do scientific study — an important part of the
German tradition. Hopkins' Professor Adams was not at all reluctant to move
his history seminars into an old biological laboratory since the environment
there helped to "cultivate more and more the laboratory method of work."
Students began to treat books as "material for laboratory use." Old dissection
tables were planed, then converted into "desks for the dissection of govern-
ment documents and other materials for American institutional history." The
seminar was evolving "from a nursery of dogma into a laboratory of scientific
Even Boston Brahmin Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, had to admit
the growing influence of this educational model. Graduate study at his own
university "did not thrive" until "the example of Johns Hopkins forced our
Faculty to put their strength into the development of our institution for
graduates." 34 Specialization of knowledge and education was especially
evident in the founding of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Opening in 1889 as a "purely graduate institution," it offered one degree: the
Ph.D. Between its opening and the first World War, the small school
awarded 192 of the degrees. 35
The influence of German academic ideals on American education was
apparent in the career of Clark's first president, G.S. Hall, who seemed to
make a religion out of specialized study. About Hall William James once
remarked that a "mystification of some kind seems never far distant from
everything he does." For Hall, the researcher was a "knight of the Holy
Spirit of truth" caught up in a "holy fervor of investigation." One entered this
spiritual state through a "kind of logical and psychic conversion," and from
31 Edward Shils, "The Order of Learning in the United States: The Ascendancy of the
University," ibid., p. 28.
32 Herbst, German Historical School, pp. 35—36.
33 Adams is quoted ibid.
34 Eliot is quoted in Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University: A History
(New York: Vintage Books, 1962), p. 336.
35 Mills, Sociology and Pragmatism, p. 68.
America in Transition 19
then on was a "member of the great body corporate of science, having his
own function in the church militant yet invisible." 36 Toward the end of his
life, Hall went even further. Research, he claimed, was
the very highest vocation of man. We felt that we belonged to the
larger university not made by hands, eternal in the world of science
and learning; that we were not so much an institution as a state of
mind and that wherever and to what extent the ideals that inspired us
reigned we were at home; that research is nothing less than a religion;
that every advance in knowledge today may set free energies that
benefit the whole race tomorrow. 37
By 1923, when Hall was rhapsodizing about his new religion, American
higher education had been reshaped with Johns Hopkins setting the pattern.
Special schools like Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance became
virtual kingdoms unto themselves. Students no longer were perceived as
part of a class which graduated at the end of a prescribed period of time. To
Gilman it did not matter whether a student's academic career lasted one year
or ten, as long as research was accomplished. The homogeneous small-town
character of the American college gave way before the diversity and size of
the universities that were assuming more dominant places on the American
landscape. Professors spoke a variety of technical languages, represented
different religious traditions and taught out of a variety of academic and
personal backgrounds. Women assumed more prominent roles in the higher
education story as the large schools became co-educational. Blacks followed
the path opened by W.E.B. DuBois, who studied at Harvard in the 1890s, as
they became a small but growing part of the student populations. And in the
most subtle change within academic life, students ceased to be the "end" of
the educational process. Under the impact of the German notion of research,
they became means to the higher end of knowledge.
Lawrence A. Cremin, in his Traditions of American Education, has
argued that to understand education in America one must look not only at
educational institutions and at individuals, but at the whole constellation or
"configuration" of the nation's educational structure. Informal means of
education such as newspapers, religious and social organizations and famil-
ial teaching all contributed to the general "gestalt" or educational shape of
any given period. Cremin further suggested that the nation's educational
configuration has assumed three successive major and distinct shapes:
colonial, national, and metropolitan. 38 Harper's era was the period of transi-
tion from the national to the metropolitan configuration. As we shall see in
the chapters that follow, Harper had his own plan for a complete configura-
tion for the new epoch in American education.
36 James and Hall are quoted in Veysey, Emergence of the American University, p. 151.
37 Hall is quoted in Herbst, German Historical School, p. 31.
38 Lawrence A. Cremin, Traditions of American Education (New York: Basic Books, Inc.,
1977), pp. 142, 91ff.
20 The Bible and the University
In 1891 Louis Sullivan altered the midwestern terrain with the construc-
tion of the Wainright building in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the nation's first
"skyscrapers," Sullivan's creation represented much more than a change in
architectural styles. His famous dictum — "form follows function" — indicated
that needs of the new American environment were overwhelming traditional
forms. Stately church steeples began to lose their prominence on American
skylines; they became dwarfed by citadels of commerce and industry. The
coming of the skyscraper was a clue to an important shift in the conscious-
ness of a people. As the steeple lost its dominant place on the horizon, so too
religion in America seemed to lose its prior status. Old beliefs and customs
appeared flimsy in the face of the ambiguous urban environment. As
Americans struggled with the agony of religious dislocation and relocation,
they responded in a variety of ways: 1) surrender of cherished religious
beliefs to the new thoughts of the age; 2) strident reassertion of a faith that
ignored whatever was causing dissonance; 3) invention of new religions
tailored to new needs; or 4) attempts to find ways to adapt old-time religion
to new ideas or circumstances. Harper's response to the religious flux of his
age was an example of the fourth option; and his choice is best understood
when viewed in the context of the other alternatives.
Many of the new breed of academics who made the transit from small
American colleges to the new university world were traumatized by the
collapse of old religious foundations. Like Harper, they were reared in
homogeneous and, in most cases, overtly Protestant communities. These
talented individuals made their way from intact small-town worlds into the
whirl of modernity. New ideas greeted them at an astonishing pace and often
left the young scholars, whether in Germany or in America, feeling adrift,
lost. A classic example of a scholar who lost his moorings in the flood of new
ideas in the late nineteenth century was William Graham Sumner, for many
years the most popular teacher at Yale University. Sumner set out from
Paterson, New Jersey, to become an Episcopal clergyman. After a few years
as rector in Morristown, Connecticut, he was appointed professor of political
and social science at Yale in 1872.
Sumner became known as a champion of a social form of Charles
Darwin's notion of the "survival of the fittest." In the course of his academic
career, religion, once his main interest, faded away. He claimed he had put
his beliefs in a drawer, locked it with the key, only to discover some time
later upon opening the drawer that it was empty. 39 Sumner's experience was
remarkably similar to that of the great naturalist whose theory he had
adapted: Charles Darwin had abandoned ministerial preparation to embrace
39 Richard Hofstadter locates Sumner as a key figure in the plot of Social Darwinism in
American Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), pp. 52-53. See also Carter, The Spiritual
Crisis in the Gilded Age, p. 3.
America in Transition 21
new ideas obtained in the Galapagos Islands and from a reading of Thomas
Malthus. The once colorful world of religion had turned gray for him. In his
Autobiography, written a few years after Sumner assumed his Yale chair,
Darwin admitted that he too had experienced the slipping away of old
beliefs. "I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revela-
tion." The loss came at a "very slow rate, but was at last complete." Darwin
felt "colour-blind," unable to see supernatural colorings in the natural
Darwin's discoveries, although first published in England in 1859, did
not make a public impact in America until after the Civil War. For many
during the post- War period, the ideas encountered in their initial biological
form or in the subsequent sociological reinterpretation made by Herbert
Spencer, proved to be the first great tremor that shook the religious founda-
At almost the same time that Darwin shocked America, James Freeman
Clarke relativized American Christianity with publication in 1871 of Ten
Great Religions. Americans were being increasingly confronted with an
evermore complicated variety of religious truths. The problem in this case
was not Darwin's grayness; in fact, the variety of religious coloration
overwhelmed sensibilities accustomed to the limited palette of Protestant
hues. The World's Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 under-
scored the evidence of pluralism in religion with its dazzling display of
saffron robes from India on the same platform alongside the bright red of a
cardinal's regalia and the business suits of Protestant leaders like Harper. 41
The scientific offensive against traditional notions of human origins and
discoveries in the emerging field of comparative religion joined with the rise
of biblical criticism to create a formidable array of forces working against
accepted religious beliefs. Although individuals had been questioning
certain biblical accounts for centuries, American popular beliefs remained
relatively untroubled by the findings of even so important a critic as Thomas
Jefferson. Critical ideas largely remained the private preserve of elites who
had the resources to develop them. Everett and Bancroft, for example,
pondered such notions but caused little trouble to others. With the rise of the
new university in America, however, it became possible for biblical critics
like Harper to find an institutional home that allowed for full time pursuit
and dissemination of these unsettling perspectives.
These three developments in the intellectual world of the nineteenth
century, together with the host of new social problems that came as a result
of America's new urban, immigrant and technological realities, pushed
40 Charles Darwin, The Autobiography, Nora Barlow, ed. (London: Collins, 1958), pp.
41 Kent Dreyvesteyn, "The World's Parliament of Religions" (Ph.D. dissertation, Univer-
sity of Chicago, 1976).
22 The Bible and the University
American believers into what Arthur M. Schlesinger has called "A Critical
Period in American Religion." 42 More recendy, Sydney Ahlstrom character-
ized the complexity and turmoil of this period: "No aspect of American
church history is more in need of summary and yet so difficult to summarize
as the movements of dissent and reaction that occurred between the Civil
War and World War I." The "era lacked the spiritual foundation" which had
been present in other times in America's religious history. 43
The experience of William Graham Sumner is representative of many in
the Gilded Age whose beliefs slipped away or caved in. But there were other
responses. Dwight L. Moody looked at the chaos of his age and saw a
"wrecked vessel." "God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, 'Moody,
save all you can.'" 44 The shoe-salesman-turned-revivalist led the fight, along
with later crusaders like William Jennings Bryan, to shore up the old ways.
Moody invented "gap-men," individuals especially equipped with a porta-
ble, simple message with which to minister to citizens of the urban environ-
ment. To reaffirm the core message of his faith, he stretched a string of
evangelical institutions across the country. His Bible Institute at Chicago
and the Northfield Academy in Massachusetts sought to respond with
simplicity to the complexity of modern religious thought. In the face of urban
sophistication and pluralism, Moody counseled his many followers to keep
their revivals lively and their sermons short. Not quite as untouched by the
spirit of his age as he presented himself, Moody wedded a simple theology
with new techniques of the business world; in so doing, he created a
dramatic response to the change experienced by many in the urban envi-
ronment. 45 The complex Gordian knot of modernity could be sliced through
with one simple act — filling out the decision card for the old time message.
It is a mistake to caricature American religion of the time as if all was
collapsing and only dramatic reaction could spare a few from trauma. Edwin
Scott Gaustad's analysis of American denominational growth patterns re-
veals that all of the major church bodies experienced sustained and, in some
cases, phenomenal growth during this period. 46 Many religious groups were
booming, especially those whose ethnicity provided some shelter from
changes sweeping the larger culture. Thanks to waves of immigrants,
Catholics in America increased from 1,606,000 in 1850 to more than
12,000,000 in 1900. A small band of German Lutheran exiles prospered in
42 Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Sr., A Critical Period in American Religion 1875-1900
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967).
43 Ahlstrom, Religious History, 2:296-97.
44 Moody is quoted in McLoughlin, Revivals, p. 144.
45 George C. Bedell, Leo Sandon, Jr., and Charles T. Wellborn note the business style of
Moody's revivalism in Religion in America (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.,
1975), pp. 169ff.
46 Edwin Scott Gaustad, Historical Atlas of Religion in America, rev. ed. (New York:
Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 52-53.
America in Transition 23
the Midwest, increasing from 700 to 725,000 during the same years. Ironi-
cally, as each new group built a particular way of life upon its traditional
understanding of the Scriptures, the sacred book became increasingly
unable to provide a common foundation for the many varieties of believers
who claimed it.
Social dislocation and pluralism of ways of life stimulated a variety of
new religious movements that managed to aid some people in their struggles
with modernity, while adding to the religious bewilderment of others. In
1872 Charles Taze Russell reinterpreted conventional teaching about the
Second Coming and began the Jehovah's Witness movement. Mary Baker
Eddy fashioned an amalgam of scientific language, biblical ideas, and the
teaching of sometime mesmerist-healer Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, which
in 1875 she named Christian Science. Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
and Annie Wood Besant organized their Theosophical Society in New York
in the same decade and offered a syncretistic solution to the problem of
Responses of surrender, retrenchment and innovation were not the only
ways in which Americans coped with the "clash of cultures" taking place in
their nation. Many leaders of established religious communities tried to
mediate between their received traditions and the tempestuous changes in
the American climate of opinion. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise led his Jewish
followers into a reformed type of Judaism that allowed believers to be
modern and Jewish at the same time. Cardinal James Gibbons helped
American Catholics transcend their ethnic heritages, affirm the American
experiment and hold on to traditional beliefs.
Within Protestantism, during those years still the majority faith, a
number of gifted leaders labored at the task of transforming the "Righteous
Empire" of agrarian America into a modern version of the Kingdom of God.
One clergyman especially sensitive to the tensions of being both faithful and
modern was Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn,
New York. Beecher had supported the Union cause in the Civil War because
Southerners, while affirming the primacy of the Scriptures, were "infidel on
the question of its contents." 47 Through the pages of his Christian Union
which reached a circulation of almost 100,000, he advocated a synthesis of
Christianity and the troublesome teaching of England's lapsed divinity
student. Terming himself a "cordial Christian evolutionist," Beecher found
comfort in the fact that "design by wholesale is grander than design by
retail," a felicitous phrase that managed to join Darwin, American business
and piety into a curious, but, for many Americans, comfortable mix. 48
47 Beecher's remarks about the Civil War are from the sermon "The Battle Set in Array,"
God's New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny, Conrad Cherry, ed.
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1971), p. 170.
48 Beecher's self-designation is quoted in Hofstadter, Social Darwinism, p. 29.
24 The Bible and the University
If Beecher found a path between the old faith and the new science,
advocates of the "social Gospel" — people such as Walter Rauschenbusch
and Washington Gladden — sought to find ways to bring together the prob-
lems of the city and the solutions of the Christian tradition. Not content with
Moody's life-boat approach, these reformers wanted to transform urban
wildernesses like New York's Hells Kitchen into the "kingdom of God."
Academics like Richard Ely pioneered a synthesis of American Protestant-
ism and the new economics; Albion Small did the same in the field of
sociology, seeking ways to solve the serious new social problems of the day.
One of the principal areas in which creative efforts were made to bridge
the widening gap between inherited religious understanding and modernity
was the emerging field of biblical studies. While some attempted to protect
the Bible from modern scholarship by building institutions like Nyack
Missionary College, founded in New York City in 1882, others perceived the
critical study of the Scriptures to be the vehicle for making the book
accessible to moderns. Far from having the negative experiences of a
Bancroft or an Everett, Charles Briggs believed that biblical criticism, as he
experienced it at the University of Berlin, opened wide the Scriptures. "I
cannot doubt but what I have been blessed with a new — divine light," he
wrote home sounding like someone fresh from a religious revival. "I feel a
different man from what I was five months ago. The Bible is lit up with a new
light." 49 Briggs returned to America to fill the Edward Robinson Chair of
Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in 1890. In his letter of
acceptance he indicated that the new approach to the Bible, which yielded
something novel called "Biblical Theology," provided "the vantage ground
for the solution of these important problems in religion, doctrine, and morals
that are compelling the attention of the men of our times." 50 With a theology
that could provide a fresh foundation for faith in a land troubled by modern
knowledge, pluralism and flux, Briggs was one of a cohort of biblical scholars
who attempted to reestablish the Bible as the foundation book for the
culture. His approach called for revision of many traditional notions about
the Scriptures. A heresy trial together with subsequent removal from his
denomination's ministerial roster revealed an unexpected irony: Briggs'
efforts to establish a strong biblical foundation for American Christians
simply caused the wobbly bases of many of his Presbyterian colleagues to
shake even more.
William Rainey Harper was part of this generation of exegetical reform-
ers who sought to establish solid biblical ground for life amid modern
circumstances. With his platoon of critically trained colleagues, he labored to
49 Briggs is quoted in Max Gray Rogers, "Charles Augustus Briggs Heresy at Union,"
American Religious Heretics: Formal and Informal Trials, George H. Shriver, ed. (Nash-
ville: Abingdon Press, 1966), p. 90.
50 Ibid., p. 97.
America in Transition 25
mediate between the village faith of pre-Civil War America and a remade
nation of peoples seeking an identity adequate for very different experi-
ences. Against the backdrop of tremendous social, educational, and religious
effervescence and disturbance, and employing a vision which he believed
could save America, Harper opened his university on that October 1892
THE DEVELOPING VISION
William Rainey Harper's life journey took him from a small Ohio town
to what Rudyard Kipling called the "splendid chaos" of Chicago, one of
nineteenth century America's booming cities. 1 Like many other Americans
in this period, he began life in a stable village environment, but came of age,
achieved prominence and died in the flux of a large city. Along with other
members of this generation of urban newcomers, Harper was unable to leave
his small town origins entirely behind, however. Although separated from
his birthplace by many miles and by a variety of modern experiences,
Harper carried New Concord's values with him, modifing and drawing upon
them as he encountered new ideas and realities. The university he created
eighteen years after leaving New Concord, despite all its heralded innova-
tions, bore imprints of that small Ohio town, and also of Yale University, the
Chautauqua Institution and the Baptist prayer meeting. From impressions
gathered at these influential stations on his journey, Harper fashioned a
vision by which he sought to make all who would participate in his extended
community of learning "one in spirit."
The College on the Hill
Irishborn David Findley founded New Concord, Ohio, in 1828. Begin-
ning with a one room cabin, Findley soon attracted other settlers and sold
them parcels of his 193 acres of land. A town grew: 32 residents in 1830, 75
by 1833, 200 by 1837. In its first decade, the tiny community acquired a
college, a mayor, and thirty-nine houses. Located on the eastern edge of
Muskingum County, New Concord was at first accessible only by Zane's
Trace, a trail named for Ebenezer Zane who cut a footpath back toward the
East from the Muskingum River in 1797. New Concord did not long remain
an isolated hamlet, however. The telegraph wired it to the rest of America in
1846, and the first train chugged into town in 1854. Never larger than a
1 Kipling is quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Rise of the City, 1878-1898 (New York:
New Viewpoints, 1975), p. 86.
28 The Bible and the University
village, New Concord belonged to a larger, more interdependent world
almost from its beginning. 2
Settled by Scotch and Irish people from Pennsylvania who had followed
the promise of open land west of the Alleghenies, New Concord was diverse
enough to boast a variety of Protestants — Baptists, Covenanters, Methodists
and Presbyterians — but still sufficiently homogeneous to have a generally
Anglo-Saxon and Protestant complexion. With one mind it supported the
Republican party at the time of the Civil War. Traces of citizen involvement
with the underground railroad testify to its pro-Union character.
Samuel Harper, one of the first successful entrepreneurs of the fledgling
town, was part of the second generation of Harpers who experienced life on
the Ohio frontier. A hamlet-sized prototype of his better-known son, Samuel
Harper majored in American enterprise. At various times he ran a cooperage,
a sawmill, a grist mill and a distillery, before opening the general store
where his precocious son learned early lessons about finance and business.
The Harper family's log cabin homestead still stands on Main Street at
the foot of the town's dominant hill. Muskingum College, atop the hill,
dominated the village horizon and gave Harper his first vision of "the higher
life." The college offered New Concordians a sense of importance, allowing
them to feel superior to neighboring villages. The state could not establish a
school system until 1850, but the Presbyterians of Muskingum County found
a way to support their liberal arts college from its opening on March 18, 1837.
Unfettered by established customs or traditions, the college admitted
women in 1854, long before more pedigreed institutions opened their doors
to female students.
The small town, with its academic status symbol, was twenty-eight years
old when Samuel Harper made a July 24, 1856, entry into his diary: "I
attended store and we had a babe born about 11—1/2 o'clock A.M." 3 The
name William Rainey Harper added one more to the town's 1850 census
total of 334. 4 From his strategic location on Main Street, Samuel Harper had
opportunity to hold community offices, serve as elder of his Presbyterian
church, and be a trustee and treasurer of the college, thus assuring that Willie
Harper's childhood would be permeated with religious, commercial, educa-
tional and social activity.
Little information remains about Harper's New Concord days. Thomas
Wakefield Goodspeed, author of the earliest biography about Harper, pro-
vides some clues about this period. According to Goodspeed, Harper was
baptized on September 11, 1856, and raised in a snug Presbyterian home
2 Lorle Ann Porter and Galen R. Wilson, A Sesquicentennial History, 1828-1928: New
Concord and Norwich, Bloomfield, Rix Mills, Stations on the National Road (Muskingum,
Ohio: Muskingum College Archives, 1978), pp. 3, 12, 14.
3 Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, p. 5.
4 Porter, A Sesquicentennial History, p. 11.
The Developing Vision 29
with twice-a-day family worship, Sunday catechism recitations and table
blessings. Stories about his childhood stressed his self-confidence and
precocity. One anecdote which Goodspeed recorded related how young
Willie strolled up to the pulpit while the Reverend Mr. Murch was deliver-
ing a Sunday sermon, helped himself to a drink from the preacher's water
glass, and then calmly returned to his pew. Five years later, at age eight, a
well-read young lad climbed the hill to the college preparatory school where
he came under the influence of Dr. David Paul, president of Muskingum
In two years William Rainey Harper was a freshman, sitting next to
students ten years his senior. Graduation followed four years later when the
young salutatorian astounded the audience by delivering his address in
Hebrew. Impressive as Harper's collegiate record was, it becomes more
understandable when seen in light of criticisms similar to those Harper
made two decades later as a reformer of American education. Small colleges
in the second half of the nineteenth century lacked systems and standards.
Gifted students entered advanced schools without a requisite primary
education and experienced little difficulty competing with students twice
their age who fumbled with basics like grammar or addition and subtraction
The dimensions of Harper's Hebrew triumph also merit a second
glance. Each subject of instruction was represented at the commencement
exercises. One-third of the Hebrew class, Harper "won" the honor of
speaking at commencement by drawing lots. A reminiscence of
Muskingum's Professor Joseph F. Spencer further tarnished the image of the
Hebrew prodigy. He had drilled Harper on Hebrew verbs and helped him
memorize quotations from Moses and the prophets. But, he admitted, "every
linguist will understand that it would have been impossible for a boy of
fourteen to have written and delivered a lengthy oration in Hebrew with
proper use of nouns and verbs." 5 If the boy-wonder lost some of his luster
under the scrutiny of his teacher, it nonetheless remained true that Harper
had demonstrated early proficiency and passion for the subject which
became his life's work. He knew more Hebrew at age fourteen than Moses
Stuart did when the latter assumed the Chair of Sacred Literature at Andover
Seminary in 1810. 6
Harper's parents and President Paul faced a perplexing problem on June
23, 1870. Samuel Harper pondered matters in his diary entry for the day:
5 Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, pp. 13-14.
6 Jerry Wayne Brown quotes Stuart's admission of lack of Hebrew preparation for his
exegetical post in The Rise of Biblical Criticism in America, 1800-1870: The New England
Scholars, p. 47.
30 The Bible and the University
I attended store and commencement. Willie graduated. It was a very
solemn matter to me. Think of having a son to graduate before he was
14 years old. 7
As a result, Harper spent the next three years at home, clerking his father's
store, teaching music lessons, and studying languages with Professor O.H.
Roberts, a new faculty member at the college. His father's diary alluded to a
serious illness in 1871: "I fear he will not be long with us." Willie was
"unwell," suffering from "bad spells" throughout the summer, autumn and
winter of 1871. 8 But as he would do frequently in his adult years, Harper
emerged from the sick room to begin a new project. The New Concord Silver
Cornet Band, under the direction of W.R. Harper, transformed Main Street
into a parade route as it marched and played on special occasions. Its band
leader also managed to play the piano with Ella Paul, daughter of the
president of the college (who four years later would become Mrs. William
Rainey Harper). Throughout these interim years Harper's proficiency in
Hebrew continued to become more obvious. At age sixteen he taught his first
college class, guiding three students through Introductory Hebrew.
The New World of Scholarship
Finally the senior Harpers, President Paul, and William agreed the time
had come for the young scholar to journey to New Haven, Connecticut. He
arrived just as "Yale was passing through the transition from a college to a
university." The college, with its 1,000 students, had a larger population
than the town of New Concord. Fifty-five graduate students competed with
undergraduates for the time of seventy-five faculty members. 9 Many years
later a fellow student, L.A. Sherman, recalled, perhaps with a tinge of
jealousy, the initial impression Harper made. At age seventeen he was "a
somewhat unsophisticated country lad . . . not very well prepared for the
work we were doing." 10
Notwithstanding his rough edges, Harper met the challenge of life at
Yale, demonstrating quickly his proficiency with languages and moving
through the graduate program with customary speed. Working under Wil-
liam D wight Whitney in philology and Sanskrit, Lewis R. Packard in Greek,
and George E. Day in Hebrew, Harper, not yet nineteen, presented his
dissertation "A Comparative Study of the Prepositions in Latin, Greek,
Sanskrit, and Gothic," in June of 1875.
A lack of material evidence confines most of Harper's student years to
obscurity. Even his Yale dissertation is lost. 11 Goodspeed provides the
7 Samuel Harper is quoted in Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, p. 16.
8 Ibid., p 18.
9 Ibid., p 24.
10 Sherman is quoted ibid.
11 Suzanne Selinger, Reference Librarian, Yale University Library, in an August 12, 1980,
The Developing Vision 31
reminiscences of a few people who encountered Harper along the way, but
most of these recollections fall into the category of lore. The outlines of his
experience can be discerned in the Goodspeed narrative, however, and they
suggest several generalizations.
When Harper boarded the train in New Concord in 1873 and made his
first journey to Yale, he traveled beyond the limits of what Peter Berger and
others have called a "home world." 12 Experiences of a young Ohio town, a
homogeneous and perhaps not too demanding education, an ordinary Pres-
byterian piety, and the Main Street General Store collided with the more
cosmopolitan way of life encountered in New England. New Haven had a
more established legacy of education, a learned ministry, and a college with
more than 170 years of its own tradition to pass on to entering students.
When he began his graduate studies at Yale, Harper exchanged social
locations. Instead of a position at the hub of New Concord life, he now
assumed a place at the periphery of a more sophisticated world. Perhaps
Harper's seldom-broken silence about these early years is an indication of
their difficulty for him.
The movement from the center of one world to the periphery of another
is a frequently discussed theme in the writings of many psychologists and
anthropologists. Erik H. Erikson's notion of the "identity crisis," for exam-
ple, defines the transition years of adolescence as a time when the old
parentally formed identity of an individual breaks apart in the face of internal
and external changes in the life trajectory. 13 Anthropologist Victor Turner
identified liminal moments in the biological and social life of a person when
transitions in self-perception occur. At these moments the individual moves
on a pilgrimage away from the integrated life of the past toward a time of
crisis and reconstruction. At the end of the process, a reintegrated individual
emerges with an experience of "communitas," or existential belonging, a
new self-understanding and a new paradigm for how to relate to the world of
Harper followed a path somewhat similar to the one these scholars have
described. His journey to New England came at the time when he was
leaving behind the world of childhood. At the very instant when his social
world might have provided a sheltered environment for the time of transi-
letter to James P. Wind, stated: "We can report that no copies of the dissertation were found
in our two inventories of 1935 and 1974."
12 Berger, Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness, p. 66.
13 Erik H. Erikson, Identity, Youth and Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,
1968), pp. 128-35.
14 Turner developed these themes first in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-
Structure (Ithaca: Cornell Paperbacks, 1969), pp. 94ff, and then together with Edith
Turner, in Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1978), pp. 2ff.
32 The Bible and the University
tion, he moved away, thus increasing the degree of dislocation. The Yale
years were lived on the threshold between the identities of Ohio boy-
wonder and the Hebrew specialist who returned home. In a sense, Harper
was a "marginal man," a person with each foot in a different world. 15 He did
not jettison his past. There was no dramatic repudiation, but there was also
no simple return to the same world he had left behind.
The depth of Harper's personal transformation became clear in his later
years. He returned home infused with a zeal for scholarship which, while not
discontinuous with his early love of books and talent for learning, showed
signs of an encounter with new ideals about research and learning. The
Hebrew which he had loved as a boy became a "profession." He was now a
The chief source of Harper's new self-image was his major Yale mentor,
William Dwight Whitney. Unlike most of the other creators of the modern
American university, Harper did not follow the migration patterns of his
generation and spend several years at a German university. His contact with
the new ideas and methods of German education were mediated to him
through this master teacher. The great-great-grandson of Jonathan Edwards,
Whitney discovered his profession by an accident that sounds like a New
England version of Ignatius Loyola's conversion.
After graduation from Williams College and a brief stint at his father's
Northampton bank, Whitney began to prepare for the medical profession by
working in a doctor's office. The day after his apprenticeship began, October
2, 1845, he contracted measles and was forced to bed. While convalescing,
he picked up a copy of Franz Bopp's Sanskrit Grammar and a new interest
awakened. The next year Whitney studied at Yale with the only teacher in
America who knew anything about the mysterious language, German-
trained Edward Elbridge Salisbury. In 1850 Whitney migrated to Germany
where for three years he studied at the Universities of Berlin and Tubingen.
Whitney assumed a new chair at Yale in 1854: "Professorship of the Sanskrit
and its relations to kindred languages, and Sanskrit literature." His career
there spanned forty productive years, represented by a bibliography which
included more than 360 titles. Whitney helped organize the American
Philological Association in 1869 and served as its first president. Essentially
a grammarian, he was interested in linguistic facts, carefully arranged and
15 Arthur Mann labeled Fiorella La Guardia a "marginal man" in La Guardia: A Fighter
Against His Times, 1882-1933 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), p. 21. Mann
used the concept to describe the variety of ethnic and social groups in which La Guardia
participated but to which he did not fully belong. In this case I am using the notion in a
different sense. Harper did not straddle a number of ethnic subcultures. Instead he crossed
the threshold between small town and urban America, between the old and new
configurations of learning.
The Developing Vision 33
described. He rejected the trend to make philology into speculative, abstract
study, instead opting for the "science" of linguistics. 16
The German university world that Whitney encountered had changed
since the days of Bancroft and Everett's trauma. He did not write home
complaining of loneliness or German arrogance. Instead his problem was
"the number of American acquaintances I have." There were northern and
southern "coteries" which managed to take up all of his time — "none is left
to cultivate German acquaintances." 17 Whitney was part of what Carl Diehl has
called a "new generation" of American scholars in Germany. 18 These scholars
did not have to adapt to the newness of German culture and ideas singlehand-
edly as had those who pioneered in Germany at the beginning of the century.
A network of Americans was present which provided individuals ready to ease
the transition and discuss the problems that newcomers encountered.
More significant than the presence of an American community of
scholars in many of the German universities were changes within German
scholarship. The Neuhumanismus that so unsettled the first American
migrants had lost some of its vigor. Emphasis was shifting away from the
philosophical speculation inspired by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and
Johann Gottfried Herder toward increasing specialization. The German
ideals of scholarship which Whitney mastered and later mediated to Harper
did not carry the same heavy ideological freight which Bancroft and Everett
carried home. The result was a second generation of scholars which returned
from Germany having mastered individual professions and having resisted
the troubling world view that had plagued the first wave. Diehl suggested
that Whitney did not experience a clash between world views. Rather he
meshed the "Protestant work ethic" of his New England heritage with the
regimen of the scholar. His journal revealed no crisis, only the daily devotion
of a scholar to arduous work. 19
The premier American linguist of his era, Whitney felt little need to
speculate beyond the data of his research. The new breakthroughs of
comparative philology that he assimilated while in Germany allowed him to
turn "back the vast & complicated body of languages as they at present exist
to a few simple principles working among & upon a few simple utter-
ances." 20 Whitney's work contained the paradigm for Harper's study of
Hebrew. One looked at all the linguistic data, arranged the findings in neat
columns, like any banker's or general store owner's son might, and then,
"inductively," to use Harper's word, found the general principles contained
in the data. To Whitney and Harper, this was scientific study, unencumbered
16 "William Dwight Whitney," Dictionary of American Biography, Dumas Malone, ed.
(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936), 20:166-69.
17 Diehl, Americans and German Scholarship, 1770-1870, pp. 129—30.
18 Ibid., p. 115.
19 Ibid., pp. 125ff.
20 Ibid., p. 123.
34 The Bible and the University
by any taint of German idealism which others thought went hand in hand
with critical linguistic study. Scientific study did not retain this attitude of
self-evident objectivity forever. Harper, however, never seemed to question
the Whitney approach.
Harper went home from Yale, not yet twenty years of age, with Ph.D. in
hand and a scholarly ideal in mind. He aimed to be a scholar, a specialist in
the study of Hebrew. Like his German predecessors in the study of
languages, he found in an ancient language and culture the basic insights
with which to interpret the world. Harper, however, selected a different
language and culture from most of his contemporaries. Instead of following
the lead of Wolf and the other great scholars who lit their torches of learning
"at the funeral pyre of ancient Greece," 21 Harper turned to the Hebrew
Scriptures for his basic construction of reality. At Yale he had encountered a
paradigm that took him beyond his New Concord horizon: the specialized
scholarship learned from Whitney that included the concern to get at all the
facts, the desire to make study a life work, and the use of an ancient language
as a means for coming to terms with the modern world.
Choosing a Baptist World
Harper left Yale to continue the task of forging a world that could
include scholarly ideals and smalltown reality. He returned to New Concord
long enough to marry Ella Paul. But he then followed the impulses of his
new profession and began to migrate through the academic world. After a
year as principal of Masonic College in Macon, Tennessee, where he taught
Latin and mathematics, organized a band and disciplined students who
raided a turnip patch, Harper went in 1876 to Denison University in
Granville, Ohio, to become tutor of ancient languages in the university's
preparatory school. The move from principal to tutor was down the status
ladder but it offered Harper the opportunity to come closer to his goal of
being a full-time scholar of languages, even if the language at first was Greek
rather than Hebrew. Another strong president, Dr. E. Benjamin Andrews,
took Harper under his wing and guided his career. With Andrew's backing
and the aid of a colleague, Richard S. Colwell, Harper organized an
extra-curricular class for those interested in Hebrew. Soon the twenty-one-
21 The phrase is from George Bancroft's admiring description of the German classical
scholarship he encountered at Goettingen in the early nineteenth century. It is quoted
ibid., p. 87. Chapters 3 and 4 will demonstrate that Harper attempted to refashion America
into a biblical world, made in the image of the Hebrew people whose language he had
mastered. Harper's appropriation of Hebrew allowed him to propose a vision for America
that was not as discontinuous to its received tradition as the idealism of his German-trained
colleagues. The Hebrew Scriptures had never been far from the consciousness of Ameri-
cans who had interpreted their reality with Old Testament images since the Puritans made
their first journey into the wilderness.
The Developing Vision 35
year-old teacher counted several faculty members among his Hebrew
After a year at Denison Harper became principal of the academy and
singlemindedly pursued the study of languages. At that time President
Andrews saw in him no indication of interest in theological issues, or even
in biblical study. "You would not have picked him out then as likely to head
a department in a theological faculty, or to distinguish himself as an
organizer of theological work in any branch. His interests were not specu-
lative but concrete." Harper's career seldom wavered from this characteristic
propensity for the concrete. More comfortable with fine linguistic points
than with abstract theological speculation, Harper also seemed more atten-
tive to details of administration than to development of a full-blown philos-
ophy of education. His ventures into either theology or educational philos-
ophy were occasional, never systematic or sustained.
Harper's skills as a teacher, however, were quite evident. "Teaching
was his delight. . . . He looked forward to each class period as a feast. . . .
Before his class his mind and his body also were all activity. His thought was
instantaneous. Question or correction followed answers like a flash."
Andrews was overwhelmed by the young teacher: "It was model teaching.
Bright pupils shot forward phenomenally; dull ones made good progress." 22
Harper's rapid movement to prominence as a gifted teacher during his
two and one-half years at Denison accompanied a more private but none-
theless significant event. The son of a stalwart Presbyterian became a
Baptist. Toward the end of 1876 Harper rose to testify from a back seat of a
Baptist prayer meeting in Granville. His colleague, Professor Charles Chan-
dler, could not believe he was hearing Harper. So stunned that he forgot
most of what Harper said, Chandler could remember only one line of his
testimonial. "I want to be a Christian. I don't know what it is to be a
Christian, but I know I am not a Christian and I want to be one." 23
Harper never interpreted his conversion. But when he stepped forward
at that prayer meeting he entered a denomination which he affirmed and led
for the remainder of his life. His silence about the change of denominational
homes can tempt one to overestimate or undervalue it. Certainly Harper's
future role as leader of the Baptist university on the south side of Chicago
could not have developed had he remained in the Presbyterian orbit. But
more important was the fact that the move to an open, aggressive and
progressive Baptistdom was congenial to Harper's religious needs. In his
later career as advocate of biblical criticism he challenged cherished inter-
pretations imposed upon Scripture by inherited traditions. He also called for
a constructive spirit on the part of the new biblical student, a spirit based
both on what the facts of the biblical material presented and on the
22 Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, pp. 40-41.
23 Chandler is quoted ibid., pp. 35-36.
36 The Bible and the University
experience of biblical truth. 24 The movement from creedal Presbyterianism
to a choice-centered Baptist faith points to the emergence of a piety which
was congruent with key themes which the scholar later proclaimed.
Harper's conversion experience further demonstrates that his transit to
New Haven had carried him beyond the home world of New Concord.
While spared a massive identity crisis, Harper nonetheless experienced
enough dislocation or diffusion to require reintegration once back on the
home soil of Ohio. Among his new Baptist associates Harper experienced
" communitas" or belonging. 25 Although later dealings with biblical criti-
cism and the construction of a new edifice of learning occasionally troubled
Harper's self understanding, the paradigm of the Baptist scholar forged in
Denison held throughout his life.
Harper's conversion makes it problematic to attempt to locate him
within conventional liberal/conservative categories. In The Modernist Im-
pulse in American Protestantism, William R. Hutchison has identified a
"cluster of beliefs" as distinctively "modern." According to Hutchison
modernists believed in "adaptation, cultural immanentism, and a religious-
ly-based progressivism." 26 As the succeeding chapters will show, Harper
shared those distinctive fundamental convictions. Problems develop, how-
ever, when Harper is compared with other aspects of Hutchison's portrait. As
he followed the contours of the generation which came into prominence in
the 1880s, Hutchison found conversion experiences "notably lacking." 27 Yet
Charles A. Briggs' experience of the "new light" in Germany mentioned in
Chapter 1, and Walter Rauschenbusch's conversion experience, suggest that
such happenings continued to occur to those who came to be thought of as
modernists, but that these individuals began to value those experiences
differently. 28 Instead of making instances of personal conversion authorita-
tive for the message they proclaimed to others, this new generation of reborn
individuals became diffident. Never repudiating their own experiences, they
also did not attempt to reproduce them. Instead, they sought to change the
hearts and minds of people with a more publicly available knowledge and
experience, that of a reinterpreted Bible. The conventional type of conver-
sion was still privately important; in the public sphere, however, where the
modernists wished to work, it was not normative.
For individuals like Briggs and Harper the scientific facts of a properly
interpreted Bible were available to all people, not just the privileged few.
With the availability of a more public form of religious data, conversion
24 See Chapter 3 below, pp. 61ff.
25 See Chapter 2 above, pp. 31ff.
26 William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 2.
27 Ibid., p. 78.
28 See above p. 24 and Dores Robinson Sharpe, Walter Rauschenbusch (New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1942), p. 43.
The Developing Vision 37
could be civilized; it was relocated in private zones by people who wanted
to reach diverse audiences. Private experiences could not convince those
who did not share them. As Americans encountered more numerous varie-
ties of religious experience, no one type could appeal to everyone. Harper
and his generation of biblical scholars sought a new basis for public
agreement: scientifically established religious facts.
The Hebrew Profession
Two years after converting to the Baptist denomination, Harper was
nominated by President Andrews to fill the position of instructor of Hebrew
at Baptist Union Theological Seminary in Chicago. The Board of Trustees
balked at the thought of a twenty-two-year-old faculty member, but
Andrews' recommendation persuaded President George W. Northrup to
invite the young scholar for an interview. Goodspeed recalled the session:
I met him in President Northrup's study in Morgan Park, then a
suburb, now a part of Chicago. I found a young man, black-haired,
stockily built, five feet seven inches tall, smooth-faced, spectacled,
youthful in looks, but so astonishingly mature in mind that I imme-
diately forgot that he was not of my own age. He had a singularly
winning personality. We both yielded to its charm and from that day
forward were his devoted friends and admirers. 29
As he would repeatedly do in his days as university builder and
advocate of a new way to read the Bible, Harper turned doubters into
partners. On January 1, 1879, he began his work at Morgan Park Seminary,
appointed, at last, instructor of Hebrew at the salary of $1000 a year.
With typical gusto, Harper took the seminary by storm, generating
instant interest in Hebrew and earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree within
his first year on the faculty. 30 His colleague, later the Dean of the new
University of Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Eri B. Hulbert, called him a
"young enthusiastic Hebraist," a "boundlessly enthusiastic" Hebrew
teacher "with all the excellencies and some of the defects of such a
The traditional curriculum could not contain Harper's energies. The
minutes of the seminary Board of Trustees indicate that by May of 1881, he
had expanded his activities far beyond his colleagues' expectations. In
addition to regular classes in Hebrew and Old Testament exegesis, Harper
was offering special classes in Chaldee and Sanskrit. Worse yet, Harper
lured six students to devote the ten days of their Christmas vacation to
29 Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, p. 43.
30 Ibid., p. 45.
31 Hulbert is quoted ibid., p. 45.
38 The Bible and the University
spending eight hours a day sight-reading the Hebrew Scriptures. 32 At
Commencement time that same year the Examining Committee of visiting
pastors and scholars marvelled at the "intense enthusiasm" which immedi-
ately struck them when reviewing the work of the Hebrew department.
They told the Board that students at the seminary "pursue Hebrew as though
their immediate settlement in the pastorate and their final success in the
ministry depended upon a knowledge of the entire Hebrew Bible." 33
Students who graduated from the seminary continued their Hebrew studies
by belonging to the Morgan Park Hebrew Club. Harper even petitioned for
permission to use the seminary building during the summer vacation to
conduct a Hebrew summer school (a harbinger of his later introduction of the
summer school into his university's academic calendar).
These early signs of enthusiasm for Hebrew were the beginnings of
what Harper later called the "Hebrew movement" in America. 34 With a
knack that few teachers possess, Harper had the ability to make the drudgery
of basic language study come alive. Ira M. Price, one of Harper's Morgan
Park students who followed his mentor into the Hebrew profession, de-
scribed what happened in the classroom:
At the first meeting in the class-room the contagious enthusiasm
of the teacher seized us. It was here, as we met day after day, week
after week, that we saw, with increasing delight, the attractiveness
and charm and skill of the teacher. The intense earnestness and
concentrated energy with which the work of the hour was carried on
fairly electrified the class. . . . This inspiration, or goading to thought,
was marvellously enhanced by another trait, . . . the ability to state all
the arguments on the two sides of a question with fullness and
Price had spotted what made Harper so appealing. He overwhelmed his
students — and later his colleagues, fellow educators, and various philanthro-
pists — with his sheer fervor. There was an almost evangelical quality about
his teaching. Students were transformed into followers of a movement and
its charismatic figure. At the same time, Harper was also a thoroughly
professional scholar. His ability to summarize all opinions and leave the
decision to his students drew many to him, even if they did not always agree
with or even know of his views.
Twenty-three students attended Harper's first summer school in July
1881; attendance climbed the next summer to 65. Demand for Harper's
32 Ibid., p. 48.
33 Ibid., p. 49.
34 Kenneth Nathaniel Beck's careful probing of the files of the American Institute of
Sacred Literature unearthed the earliest reference to the Hebrew movement in Harper's
article, "The Hebrew Book Exchange," published by his American Institute of Hebrew
from Morgan Park, Illinois, in 1882. It is quoted in Beck's "The American Institute of
Sacred Literature: A Historical Analysis of an Adult Education Institution," p. 36.
35 Price is quoted in Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, p. 47.
The Developing Vision 39
teaching led the young professor to branch out. In 1883 he conducted a
summer school at Chautauqua in New York. During the decade of the
eighties, over thirty of his summer schools followed in New Haven, Con-
necticut, Worcester, Massachusetts, the University of Virginia, Evanston,
Illinois, Philadelphia and Cambridge, Massachusetts. An average of 300
students studied Hebrew under his direction each summer. 36
Other students, who could not work with Harper at Morgan Park or at
one of the summer schools, soon clamored for Hebrew. In response to their
interest, Harper created The Correspondence School of Hebrew in 1880 and
then sent out on February 14, 1881, the first of thousands of correspondence
lessons. In less than two years Harper had launched a national movement.
The weight of correspondence required him to move from his private
seminary study to a vacant store, where he housed fonts of Hebrew type and
a growing staff of assistants. During that amazingly productive time, Harper
authored Elements of Hebrew and Hebrew Vocabularies to aid his expand-
ing network of students. As his students advanced, so did their teacher's list
of scholarly publications. His Lessons of the Intermediate Course and
Lessons of the Progressive Course followed in 1882; A Hebrew Manual and
Lessons of the Elementary Course appeared in 1883. In 1885 Harper added
Introductory Hebrew Method and Manual to the growing collection of
resources for the study of Hebrew. 37
Summer schools and publishing successes notwithstanding, Harper was
not through creating. A journal was needed to link together the followers of
his movement, so the Hebrew Student appeared on April 8, 1882, with
Harper as editor. To fund his various enterprises, Harper became an
entrepreneur, founding a joint stock company with shares for sale at $100
each. To unite the teachers in his Hebrew movement into an organization,
he created the American Institute of Hebrew during that same year.
Although President Andrews may not have seen Harper's leadership
qualities during the Denison days, they became apparent at Morgan Park.
Harper was an impresario — teaching a full-time load, commuting to summer
schools, editing a journal, publishing books to fuel a movement, raising
money, nudging people into an organization. Amazingly, he still had time to
contribute to Morgan Park Baptist Church. Goodspeed, the church's found-
ing pastor, recalled that Harper served as clerk, deacon, finance committee
member, treasurer, and Sunday School superintendent during his seven
years at Morgan Park. 38 Yet, even with all of these demands upon his
energies Harper could find room on his agenda for responding to opportu-
nities which might take him in different directions. That characteristic
openness prompted Harper to accept an invitation from a creative Methodist
36 Ibid., p. 52.
37 Ibid., p. 53.
38 Ibid., p. 50.
40 The Bible and the University
educator who would stretch Harper's vision beyond the horizons of his
seminary and the study of Hebrew.
The Chautauqua Vision
The Rev. John Heyl Vincent, former Methodist circuit rider and promoter of
the "uniform lesson plan" for the Sunday School, had teamed with Lewis W.
Miller, inventor of the Buckeye Mower and Reaper, to establish a Normal
School for Sunday School teachers at Fair Point on the southwestern shore of
eighteen-mile-long Lake Chautauqua in western New York. They opened
their camp on August 8, 1874, for a two-week session devoted to aiding
Sunday School teachers in their tasks. 39 The following year Vincent pre-
vailed upon old friend Ulysses Simpson Grant to come as guest speaker.
President Grant's arrival on August 15, 1875, at the head of a flotilla of eleven
steamboats, drew an estimated crowd of 30,000 and assured that, in spite of
its modest origins, Chautauqua would make a major impact on American life
in the late nineteenth century.
Almost immediately after the president's visit, Vincent and Miller
looked beyond the needs of America's Sunday Schools to envision a much
larger educational enterprise. By the time they finished dreaming they had
created the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, the Chautauqua
Press, the Chautauqua University, and the Chautauqua University Exten-
sion Program. To spread their educational program they eventually spawned
numerous Chautauquas across the country. 40
A combination of respect for the reputation of the young Hebrew
phenomenon and a desire to nip competition in the bud moved Vincent to
arrange a meeting with Professor Harper in 1883. Aware of a rival camp to his
own coming into existence across Lake Chautauqua, Vincent confided to his
son that "the Baptists will find some bright, aggressive young minister of
their denomination, put him in charge over there, and give him a free
hand." 41 The Methodist champion of popular Christian education had no
hesitancy about cornering a market in order to protect the Chautauqua
Gospel. Vincent sent Harper a telegram and the two met somewhere along
the train route between St. Louis and Chicago. Of the meeting Harper
I shall never forget that first half hour I had the privilege of spending
with Dr. Vincent; no day of my life has ever meant so much to me, a
39 Theodore Morrison, Chautauqua: A Center for Education, Religion, and the Arts in
America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 18-26.
40 Joseph E. Gould, The Chautauqua Movement: An Episode in the Continuing American
Revolution (Fredonia, N.Y.: State University of New York, 1961).
41 Leon H. Vincent, John Heyl Vincent: A Biographical Sketch (New York: The Macmil-
lan Company, 1925), p. 130.
The Developing Vision 41
time of the beginning of sympathies and the beginning of work which
I had never before dreamed of.
At Chautauqua Harper developed the "sympathy with the work of popular
education, the interest in the education of the masses which I am sure I
should never have felt but for contact with Chautauqua men and
Chautauqua ideas." 42
Harper arrived at Chautauqua in 1883 just in time to encounter people
in the grip of a very successful idea. Victorian cottages had replaced the tents
of the original camp meetings; the summer community had a daily newspa-
per which heralded his arrival. Steamboats made regular stops at the
Chautauqua dock and the Atheneum hotel hosted guests who did not choose
to become permanent residents. Harper roomed at what came to be called
"Knower's Ark," a home for guest bishops and faculty members. Not far from
his lodging lay Palestine Park, a geographic scale model of the Holy Land
showing the Dead Sea and other important places in Bible history.
A passion for Christian culture permeated the atmosphere. People who
aspired to a richer and more meaningful life performed music or discussed
good books on the village's ubiquitous front porches. Distinguished lectur-
ers held forth in the Hall in the Grove; preachers proclaimed a non-sectarian
gospel several times each day. Sessions lengthened from the original fifteen
days of 1874 to forty-three-day-long periods providing more time for people
to equip themselves for living in their modem environment.
Chautauqua served as a pulpit for people with worthy ideas or causes.
Frances Willard came with her message of temperance; Anthony Comstock
sought supporters of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Lyman Abbott
claimed he was converted to evolutionary thought by a lecture given at
Chautauqua by Professor E. Ogden Doremus.
But Vincent was determined to reach beyond those who attended the
annual summer assemblies. On August 10, 1878, he announced the forma-
tion of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, a home reading plan,
the first in a series of educational innovations. In 1879 Vincent created a
School of Languages, another organizational step beyond concern for imme-
diate needs of Sunday School teachers. The next year he went even further,
inviting teachers from secular schools to a Teacher's Betreat that studied
pedagogical approaches. The National Education Association came that year
for a national convention. Vincent continued to expand his horizon, adding
musical theory to his curriculum. In 1881 Chautauqua announced the
opening of its own School of Theology, chartered by the State of New York
to train candidates for the ministry. This school was designed for those who
did not have access to seminary education, and it included provision for
correspondence study, something almost unheard of in America. At least one
other experiment with correspondence study was underway when Vincent
42 "Dr. Harper Banqueted," Chautauqua Assembly Herald 20, no. 4 (July 25, 1891):4.
42 The Bible and the University
began this new program — Harper's program had begun less than a year
At the same moment that Harper arrived to begin his Hebrew teaching,
the State of New York chartered the Chautauqua University, an institution
with authority to grant academic degrees. The Sunday School camp re-
mained a university until Harper opened his new institution in Chicago,
which would be complete with many of the features he encountered and
with which he experimented in rural western New York. 43
Vincent's talents as organizer and promoter served a vision. Remember-
ing a background that had offered no luxuries like higher education, the
clergyman sought ways to provide learning for all. He saw no gap between
the world of learning and the message he was ordained to proclaim.
Education and the Christian message went hand in hand. In 1886 Vincent
described The Chautauqua Movement and readily admitted his presuppo-
sitions. He saw "the whole of life" as "a school" that worked "from the
earliest moment to the day of death." The "basis of education" was religious
and for the believer "all knowledge, religious or secular, is sacred." One
studied to "become like God, according to the divinely appointed processes
for building character." Vincent singled out the adult years for special
attention partly because many, like him, had experienced "early lack of
culture." Vincent, however, turned this apparent deficiency into a motive for
his movement. Cultural impoverishment "begets a certain exaltation of its
value and desirability, and a craving for its possession." For these reasons
America's great Sunday School teacher labored so that "the influence of the
best teachers may be brought to bear upon [the mature mind] by frequent
correspondence, including questions, answers, praxes, theses, and final
written examinations of the most exhaustive and crucial character." 44
Vincent was infatuated with college education, an experience he had
missed in his Alabama youth, but which he now offered to anyone who
would sign up for courses. He romanticized about its advantages:
The action by which a youth becomes a college student — the
simple going-forth, leaving one set of circumstances, and voluntarily
entering another, with a specific purpose — is an action which has
educating influence in it.
The process was a "new birth" in the life of all who left one world for
another. As students participated together in this process of environmental
exchange, a new association, a "fellowship" was formed. "They have left the
same world; they now together enter another world." This preacher who saw
all human experience as a school thought that "college life is the whole of
life packed into a brief period, with the elements that make life, magnified
43 Morrison, Chautauqua, pp. 41-48.
44 John H. Vincent, The Chautauqua Movement (Boston: Chautauqua Press, 1886), pp.
The Developing Vision 43
and intensified, so that test of character may easily be made." College was a
"laboratory of experiment" where students experienced life's "natural laws
and conditions" in a compressed period. 45
The creation of Chautauqua University was the organizational capstone
of the vision which began in Vincent's attempts to reform Sunday School
instruction. Every innovation that he attempted served the goal of redemp-
tive education. Thus the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle was
"John the Baptist, preparing the way for seminary and university." With his
own university, Vincent created "a college for one's own home," offering
college life to those who could not savor delights offered at traditional
institutions. 46 He sought to aid people who
believe that into the closely woven texture of every-day home and
business life, there may be drawn threads of scarlet, crimson, blue
and gold, until their homespun walls become radiant with form and
color worthy to decorate the royal chamber — the chamber of their
King, God, the Father of earnest souls. 47
Such an expansive view precluded denominational exclusivism. For
example, in 1880 Vincent invited Rabbi Nathan Noah of New York to teach
Hebrew in the School of Languages. From its start the School of Theology
carefully stepped around the thorny issues of denominational traditions with
regular printed announcements of its guiding perspective:
The various schools of the Church, ecclesiastical and doctrinal,
are reported to all students of the Chautauqua School of Theology by
their respective representatives. The Calvinist defines Calvinism; the
Armenian [sic], Armenianism; a Baptist gives the distinctive views of
his branch of the Church; and thus the Chautauqua School of
Theology is strictly denominational, in that it guarantees to each
member not only a course of doctrinal studies prepared by men
authorized to speak for his Church, but it enables him to test the
soundness of such statements by a careful reading of the positions
taken by other or rival schools. There is a sense in which this may be
called "union" but it is in the highest and best sense denomina-
In Vincent's plans Harper found an exalted and expansive vision that
incorporated all of his concerns and transcended many of them. Vincent
emphasized learning fused with an evangelical version of Christianity.
From him Harper acquired a passion to include those who were cut off from
normal avenues of education. At Chautauqua Harper was shown a way
around the barriers of denominationalism — not repudiation, but creation of a
community of scholarship.
45 Ibid., pp. 169-74.
46 Ibid., pp. 178, 15.
48 Ibid., p. 198.
44 The Bible and the University
To be able to include so many different types of Christians seeking
culture, Vincent and his colleagues took pains to keep some distance
between themselves and traditional notions of evangelical piety.
"Chautauqua is not a camp meeting," proclaimed advance publicity for the
seventeenth season, "although it is controlled by those who believe in the
Evangelical Protestant Empire." Run "on a broad, liberal, undenominational
basis," the summer program was "free from any of the eccentricities and
extravagances which have prejudiced many people against the so-called
camp-meeting. ' ' 49
Concern to avoid guilt by association with the popular forms of revival-
ism which people met at camp meetings did not completely mask the fact
that Chautauqua was participating in a much larger revival than the kind
which made Vincent nervous. People who came to Chautauqua participated
in "that unique and remarkable movement now known all over the world;
one in consecration to a splendid work — the promotion of symmetrical
culture among the people everywhere." 50 It was a revival based on the Bible
but concerned with much more than denominational boundaries and tradi-
tions. "The leaders of this educational movement are believers in Revelation
and lovers of 'whatsoever things are true' in art, in literature, and in science.
Their faith is so firm that they are confident of perfect harmony between the
'Word' and the 'Works' when both are rightly interpreted." 51 The Hall in the
Grove, site of popular lectures on a variety of secular subjects, stood adjacent
to St. Paul's Grove on the side of the hill by Lake Chautauqua, symbol of the
synthetic Christian culture that was revitalizing many in the American
There was ample room for Harper's ambition and energy within John
Vincent's expansive vision. The twenty-seven-year-old professor began his
Hebrew magic at Chautauqua in 1883. Four years later Vincent appointed
him principal of the College of Liberal Arts, stimulating Harper's first
impulse to venture beyond the realm of Hebrew study. Harper became the
star of Chautauqua, reorganizing its existing curriculum and adding new
course offerings under Vincent's benevolent eye, until the latter moved on to
become the Methodist's bishop in Topeka, Kansas, in 1888. 52
When leaders of the University of Chicago attempted to convince
Harper to sever his connections with Chautauqua in favor of full-time efforts
on behalf of their new institution, Harper demonstrated his commitment to
49 "Chautauqua Seventeenth Season (1890) Preliminary Announcement," Chautauqua
University and Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts: Circulars, Announcements, Specimen
Lesson Sheets, Specimen Syllabuses, Letter Heads, Volume I, 1884-1892 (Chautauqua
Archives), p. 47.
50 Vincent, "The Chautauqua University," ibid., p. 2.
51 Vincent, "Chautauqua: A Popular University," ibid., p. 733.
52 Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, The Story of Chautauqua (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1921),
The Developing Vision 45
Vincent's vision by accepting the responsibility of serving as principal of the
entire Chautauqua System of Education in 1892. By that time Harper's
administrative chores were staggering. He reorganized the Chautauqua
System, dropped the name "university," and assumed the duties of "secur-
ing fifteen department heads and one hundred or more teachers, preparing
sections for over two thousand students, planning a curriculum to include
language and literature, mathematics and science, music, art, physical
culture and practical art." In addition he edited the catalogue, planned the
publicity, and arranged nearly 300 "events" for each session. 53
Harper's rise from teaching to taking responsibility for an entire educa-
tional institution began at the biblical base of Vincent's vision. Harper was
an expert on the subject which remained the core of the Chautauqua
program: the Scriptures. That expertise, when joined with his impressive
organizational ability, carried him via the Chautauqua path into national
prominence and a much wider educational world. As he scheduled classes,
lectures, sermons and events for Chautauqua's wide audience, Harper
encountered the leaders of scholarship, political life and Protestantism.
Richard T. Ely, Herbert Baxter Adams, Woodrow Wilson, Francis G.
Peabody, Moses Coit Tyler, Frederick Jackson Turner, William Graham
Sumner, Edward Everett Hale, Theodore Roosevelt, Josiah Strong, Frances
Willard, Henry Drummond, Alonzo Stagg, Lyman Abbott, Washington
Gladden, John Henry Barrows, Booker T. Washington and G. Stanley Hall
each contributed to some phase of the total educational program run by
Harper. Vincent's efforts to make evangelical education available to popular
audiences which hungered for it provided Harper a route to the apex of the
nation's religious and educational life.
Harper's own scholarly scope widened under the influence of the
Chautauqua experience. In 1888 he opened a School of the English Bible to
make available the results of biblical scholarship to Chautauquans with no
Hebrew or Greek skills. By 1890 this new field required a separate section
in the Preliminary Announcements for the Seventeenth Season. At that time
Harper supervised a comprehensive structure of "Schools of Sacred Litera-
ture." The Christian Endeavor School of the English Bible, the College
Student's School of the English Bible, the School of the English Bible, the
School of Hebrew and the Old Testament, the School of New Testament
Greek and the School of Semitic Languages and Ancient Versions indicate
the breadth of the field which Harper sought to embrace. 54
It is important to remember that Chautauqua, although formative for
Harper, did not have the same effect on everyone who experienced it. After
a July week there in 1896 William James admitted that he had learned "a lot"
53 Morrison, Chautauqua, p. 76.
54 "Chautauqua Seventeenth Season (1890) Preliminary Announcement No. 2,"
Circulars, Announcements, p. 64.
46 The Bible and the University
from the endless round of lectures, demonstrations and performances. But
the basic goodness of the place troubled him. He looked forward to
something "less blameless. . . . The flash of a pistol, a dagger, or a devilish
eye, anything to break the unlovely level of 10,000 good people — a crime,
murder, rape, elopement, anything would do." 55 Harper, on the other hand,
experienced anything but boredom. Chautauqua provided both the voca-
tional means to move beyond the professional world of seminary teaching,
and the chance to widen his horizon to include a national range of problems
and people that would be woven into the scriptural fabric of his new
The Yale Professor
While Harper climbed in esteem as teacher and administrator in his
moonlighting efforts at Chautauqua, he also moved into prominence in his
full-time profession as he become recognized as the teacher of Hebrew and
Old Testament in the nation. Morgan Park, his vocational home for seven
years, could not hold him. Even an offer to head the financially moribund old
University of Chicago could not compete with a chance to return to Yale, this
time as acknowledged leader of a scholarly profession. As a thirty-year-old,
Harper returned to his alma mater in 1886 as professor of Semitic Languages
in the Graduate Department and instructor in the Divinity School. A letter to
his mentor Whitney revealed personal doubts about his abilities: "I am
diffident in undertaking the work because I feel how poorly I am prepared
as compared with many others, who hold chairs in Yale College; but I am
sure that I shall do my best to build up the Department." Three weeks after
this confession Harper accepted Whitney's suggestion "to take as much of
the coming year as possible for study." He even promised not to open any
new Hebrew Schools during the coming year. 56
A promise to ease up on his schedule was relative, of course, to Harper's
characteristic speed and energy. He built his department rapidly. Arriving
with an entire professional apparatus, Harper needed the whole summer of
1886 to move his Hebrew enterprise into New Haven, renting a three-story
building to house it. His correspondence programs, summer schools and
Chautauqua enterprises made Harper on many days a larger user of the U.S.
Post Office than all the rest of Yale University combined. 57
A survey of Yale catalogues during Harper's tenure there reveals how
his professional purview expanded. In his first year at his new post, Harper
confined his efforts to teaching Hebrew, Arabic, Assyrian, and Aramaic. The
55 Morrison, Chautauqua, p. 83.
56 William Ramey Harper personal letters to William Dwight Whitney, June 12, 1886, and
July 2, 1886 (William Dwight Whitney Collection, Yale University Archives, New Haven,
57 Mayer, Young Man in a Hurry, pp. 26-27.
The Developing Vision 47
next year, however, Harper's brother, Robert, whose scholarly biography in
many ways paralleled William's, joined the department of Semitic Studies,
bringing Ethiopic and Babylonian studies into Harper's field of vision. By
the 1888-89 academic year the department included three other Harper
Harper's responsibilities included biblical subjects alongside the lin-
guistic program. In 1890 Harper added the Woolsey Professorship of Biblical
Literature to his other responsibilities. The Hebrew enthusiast's labors
quickly dwarfed those of his mentor. In the 1890—91 university catalogue,
Whitney's courses took up only a quarter of a page — his usual amount of
space — while Harper's sprawled over three pages. Also that year he assumed
an additional title: University Professor of the Semitic Languages. 58
In his new setting, Harper again conducted a revival in the midst of a
seemingly dry subject. Frank Knight Sanders, a long-time assistant to Harper
and later Woolsey Professor of Biblical Literature and Dean of the Yale
Divinity School, recalled Harper's impact: "He threw himself with stirring
enthusiasm into his work, making himself almost at a bound the center of a
group of earnest students. . . . To us all his methods and his ambitions were
a revelation." In his first year at Yale Harper taught fifty theological students
and, for the first time, seven graduate students. 59
The Chautauqua experience had demonstrated Harper's ability to trans-
late his scholarly work into a popular idiom. At Yale Harper made another
move against the stream of specialization by introducing the study of the
English Bible into the institution's curriculum. In the College he gave a
series of lectures on Old Testament wisdom literature and soon found
himself assigned by President Timothy Dwight to teach Bible regularly to
undergraduates. From these beginnings Harper developed a national move-
ment to open the college curriculum to the study of the English scriptures. 60
At Yale Harper achieved an extraordinary degree of scholarly promi-
nence. He held simultaneous professorships in the Divinity School and the
departments of Semitic studies and biblical literature. President Dwight and
others saw no limit to what he might achieve; his name was even mentioned
as a likely future president of this most respected American college, recently
At the height of his prominence Harper turned away from all that Yale
offered. Summoned by the Baptist leaders of Morgan Park Seminary and by
the money of John D. Rockefeller, Harper took what seemed to be a
discontinuous step into the perilous world of university administration. His
years as leader of the Hebrew and Chautauqua movements had certainly
58 The Catalogue of Yale University (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1886-87), pp.
40-41, 100, 115; (1887-88), pp. 40, 101, 116; (1888-89), pp. 43, 106-7, 122; (1889-90), pp.
43, 47, 119, 139-40.
59 Sanders is quoted in Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, p. 75.
60 Ibid., pp. 75-78. The movement is discussed below, pp. 102-103.
48 The Bible and the University
prepared him for administration. More important than this administrative
experience, however, was the basic vision which Harper carried with him to
his new position in Chicago. He went there to construct a great community
of learning, grounded on a biblical perspective which he had been fashion-
ing for decades. Like other progressives of this period, Harper carried many
of the core values of smalltown America with him as he approached his new
environment. 61 But the mature vision which he brought to Chicago also
contained elements from the other stops on his journey. He carried images of
the professional scholar from his days under Whitney, a style of Baptist piety
that made room for a variety of individual beliefs, and the concern he
developed at Chautauqua for educating all Americans in a Christian culture.
From these distinct worlds Harper fashioned his own unique and compel-
ling vision. Constructive biblical scholarship, scientifically done, unfettered
by the weight of tradition, carried out in the right spirit, became the means
by which he sought to remake his troublesome American environment into
a modern version of the biblical world.
61 For a discussion of progressives and small town values see Jean B. Quandt, From the
Small Town to the Great Community: The Social Thought of Progressive Intellectuals
(New Brunswick, N.J.: Butgers University Press, 1970).
SHAPING A NEW BIBLICAL WORLD
In 1889, near the end of an article on "Yale Rationalism," Harper made
a rare statement about the relationship between his conversion experience
and his life's work.
When converted to a belief in the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ (a
conversion after school and college life) the writer pledged himself to
the work of Bible study and Bible teaching. He has done what he
could to build up not only an interest in the study of the Scriptures,
but a faith in their divine origin. 1
Written less than two years before Harper became president of the Univer-
sity of Chicago, Harper's rare self revelation was a cryptic indicator of
professional purpose, academic vision and biblical perspective. As his
personal notebooks and his many publications reveal, Harper's scholarly
days and nights were spent in the promotion and encouragement of a Bible
study movement in America. Although the plans for his new university were
developed after Harper made his self-disclosure, they reveal that the
institution he founded was also shaped in fundamental ways by the commit-
ment he made in 1876 at a Granville, Ohio, Baptist prayer service. Even
Harper's inchoate hermeneutic can be glimpsed in his statement's juxtapo-
sition of biblical study and personal conversion.
One of the primary ways in which Harper fulfilled his sacred pledge was
through religious and scholarly journalism. During his career he founded
and edited four periodicals aimed at a variety of audiences and interests. His
first venture, The Hebrew Student, appeared in 1882, less than a year after
the young professor began teaching Hebrew at Morgan Park Seminary.
Within a year The Hebrew Student became The Old Testament Student,
signalling a shift in interest beyond the limits of the editor's linguistic
One year later Harper separated scholarly linguistic work from the less
1 William Rainey Harper, "Yale Rationalism," The Old and New Testament Student 9
(July 1889): 54.
50 The Bible and the University
technical but equally important task of reviving biblical study in America.
The scholarly Hebraica appeared in 1884 while The Student became
Harper's primary medium for reaching a wider public. 2 That Harper's
horizon had expanded once again became clear in 1889 when The Old
Testament Student added "and New" to its tide page. Clearly, his experi-
ences with popular audiences at Chautauqua and Yale had produced new
In 1893 The Old And New Testament Student became The Biblical
World, an indication that during the years of transition from professorship to
university presidency, Harper's vision and purpose had widened still fur-
ther. 3 Extrabiblical subjects such as religious education and the comparative
study of religion began to appear in his tables of contents. As his scholarly
vision matured and his journals grew, Harper developed a perspective
which incorporated insights from historical analysis, literary criticism, soci-
ology, psychology, comparative religion and other fields of inquiry into one
expansive biblical vision.
Harper and Wellhausen
Harper's initial forays into biblical interpretation seemed quite conserv-
ative. The opening issue of The Hebrew Student carried a disclaimer
informing readers of its editor's "sufficiently conservative" stance. 4 Several
times during his publishing career he took the opportunity to reiterate that
conservative position. In 1889, for example, when he published a series of
articles in Hebraica debating Pentateuchal questions with Princeton's Pro-
fessor Henry Green, Harper cautiously informed readers of the Student that
he was merely summarizing opinions of more liberal scholars who favored
multiple authorship of the first five books of the Bible. "The statements
given are made without any reference to the conclusions to which he
2 Kenneth Nathaniel Beck discussed the history of Harper's journals in "The American
Institute of Sacred Literature: A Historical Analysis of an Adult Education Institution"
(Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1968) pp. 51ff. These journals outlived their
founder, but not without considerable redefinition in scope and purpose. Thus Hebraica
became The American Journal of Semitic Languages in 1895 and the Student, later The
Biblical World, merged with The American Journal of Theology in 1921 to become The
Journal of Religion, p. 127.
3 Harper made two additional forays into religious journalism. The American Journal of
Theology appeared in 1897 and was from its inception an official publication of the
University of Chicago. In 1903 Harper appointed Shailer Mathews Managing Editor of
Christendom, a shortlived (April 18-August 29, 1903) attempt at producing a popular
magazine. Mathews felt the venture failed because it had been undercapitalized and
mistakenly launched in the summer when readers were difficult to reach. See Shailer
Mathews, New Faith For Old: An Autobiography (New York: The Macmillan Company,
1936), pp. 90-92.
4 See the footnote on the cover page of William Rainey Harper, The Hebrew Student 1
(April 1882): 1.
Shaping a New Biblical World 51
[Harper] himself may have come, which, as a matter of fact, are, in many
respects, widely different." 5 Yet a few years after assuming the presidency of
his university, Harper unabashedly published articles on the first twelve
chapters of Genesis which made it clear that he accepted many of the views
which previously he had hedged with reservations.
Lars Hoffman has suggested that Harper experienced a "second conver-
sion" to the ideas of Julius Wellhausen during the later years of the 1880s. 6
In order both to evaluate Hoffman's suggestion and, more importantly, to
discern Harper's distinctive contribution to biblical scholarship, it is helpful
to consider the impact of Wellhausen upon biblical scholarship as seen
through the eyes of several more recent scholars of the field. The purpose of
such a review is not to retell the history of biblical studies. Rather, by
reviewing portions of that history, Harper's distinctive blending of evangel-
ical belief and critical scholarship becomes more apparent.
Wellhausen's Prolegomena to the History of Israel appeared in its
original German edition in 1878, three years after Harper had presented his
dissertation to William Dwight Whitney and the Yale faculty. While the book
is little known to those outside the field of biblical studies, it holds a place in
its own discipline analogous to that of Charles Darwin's Origin of the
Species in biology. Like Darwin, Wellhausen had precursors who had
discovered major anomalies in traditional models of thinking. And also like
Darwin, Wellhausen differed from his precursors in his ability to present
what Rudolph Smend has called a "total view" of his subject which
incorporated troublesome historical discoveries into an overarching new
From the beginning of the 18th century, Old Testament scholars had
been pondering the possibility of several narrative sources for the book of
Genesis and, by extension, the rest of the Pentateuch. In a review of biblical
scholarship in that period Douglas Knight has traced the proposal of
"distinguishable sources" back to Henning Bernhard Witter in 171 1. 8
During the next century and a half the evidence and speculation steadily
accumulated against the traditional notion of Mosaic authorship. In 1753
Jean Astruc, once the physician to Louis XV of France and later a professor
at the royal college at Paris, argued that two different narratives could be
distinguished in Genesis on the basis of whether the Hebrew word em-
ployed for God was Yahweh or Elohim. By 1833 German theologian W.M.L.
De Wette had moved attention to the problematic dating of the book of
5 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 8 (February 1889):
6 Hoffman, "William Rainey Harper and the Chicago Fellowship," p. 68.
7 Rudolph Smend, "Julius Wellhausen and His Prolegomena to the History of Israel,"
Semeia 25 (1982): 13.
8 Douglas A. Knight, "Wellhausen and the Interpretation of Israel's Literature," Semeia
52 The Bible and the University
Deuteronomy, suggesting that instead of coming from the hand of Moses or
from either of the two sources commonly called J and E, Deuteronomy was
composed sometime in the 7th century B.C.E. By the time that K.H. Graf
suggested, in 1865, that a fourth distinct source, the Priestly document, was
the most recent of all the Pentateuchal sources, a tremendous amount of
scholarship and evidence had accumulated which challenged conventional
At age 34, Wellhausen, the son of a high church Lutheran minister,
supplied a comprehensive new theory which could accommodate the new
knowledge. The breakthrough which led to his complete reconstruction of
Old Testament history had happened almost a decade before Wellhausen
published his Prolegomena. The scholar recalled how:
Dimly I began to perceive that throughout (the Pentateuch) there
was between them (prophetic literature and Law) all the difference
that separates two wholly distinct worlds. ... At last, in the course of
a casual visit in Gottingen in the summer of 1867, I learned through
Ritschl that Karl Heinrich Graf placed the Law later than the Proph-
ets, and almost without knowing his reasons for the hypothesis, I was
prepared to accept it;
I readily acknowledged to myself the possibility of understand-
ing Hebrew antiquity without the book of the Law. 10
Wellhausen gathered the insights from literary criticism and used them to
reconstruct the history of Israel. If the Law attributed to Moses was one of
the latest products of that history, then existing explanations of that history
needed to be overhauled. Although other scholars would subsequently fault
him for his preoccupation with the origins of the Law, that problem became
the decisive one for Wellhausen. The "question to be considered is whether
that law is the starting point of the history of ancient Israel, or not rather for
that of Judaism, i.e., of the religious communion which survived the
destruction of the nation by the Assyrians and Chaldeans." 11
What followed as the solution to this problem was what Patrick D.
Miller, Jr., has recently described as Wellhausen's "schema." Wellhausen's
history of Israel's religion was organized around three different sources for
Israel's relationship to God. Through the centuries, that relationship shifted
from an initial orientation to nature, to a subsequent orientation to history
and then, finally, to an orientation to Law. 12 Correspondingly, Israel's history
could be divided into three distinct phases: the period from the Exodus to
9 Herbert L. Hahn, The Old Testament in Modern Research (Philadelphia: Fortress
Press, 1966) pp. 4-5. Smend, "Julius Wellhausen and His Prolegomena to the History of
Israel," p. 10.
10 Wellhausen is quoted in Smend, p. 10.
11 Ibid., p. 12.
12 Patrick D. Miller, Jr., "Wellhausen and the History of Israel's Religion," Semeia 25
(1982), p. 62.
Shaping a New Biblical World 53
the emergence of Elijah in which God and Israel met in the elemental realm
of nature; the prophetic period with its emphasis on God's actions in history;
and the postexilic age, which was characterized by emphasis on the legal
relations between God and the chosen people.
In Wellhausen's version, the primitive period of early Israelite history
was typified by a natural religion lacking anything resembling the monothe-
ism of later Judaism. John H. Hayes has summarized Wellhausen's recon-
struction of the early history:
There is little if any uniqueness to the history of the Israelite
ancestors, no desert theocracy, no monotheistic faith, no law set once
and for all, no unified experience of all the tribes in Egypt, no
covenant theology. 13
In essence, Wellhausen had jettisoned the patriarchal period, employing
what Douglas Knight has called the "principle of historical projection" to
deal with the biblical material about Abraham and his people. 14 The only
historical knowledge one could gain from such stories was "of the time when
the stories about them arose in the Israelite people." 15
Wellhausen attempted to divorce the history of Israel from theological
interpretations. His history was informed by the general principle that "the
nearer history is to its origin the more profane it is." 16 But in spite of his
efforts to offset theological biases, other prejudices crept into his reconstruc-
tion. In many ways a temperamental opposite to Harper, Wellhausen
shunned "congresses and conferences, went on no lecture tours, and hardly
ever participated in the normal sociability of colleagues" at Halle, Marburg
and Gottingen where he held professorships. 17 Knight suggests that such an
"anti-institutional posture" made him unsympathetic to "post-exilic inten-
tions" and "drew him to the free spirit which he saw at play in the early
If one turns to Harper's scholarly writing in his post-Yale days, it is
tempting to accept Hoffman's hypothesis of a "second conversion" to
Wellhausen. Harper clearly accepted many of the elements of Wellhausen's
program. Like the seminal German thinker, Harper found the literary
evidence in favor of the thesis that Genesis was essentially the product of
four historically distinct sources to be of major significance in understanding
Israel's history. He too was unable to draw a straight historical line from
Eden to Jesus. While differing slightly from Wellhausen regarding the figure
of Abraham, whom Harper regarded as a "simple superstitious sheik," he
13 John H. Hayes, "Wellhausen as a Historian of Israel," Semeia 25 (1982), p. 53.
14 Knight, p. 28.
15 Wellhausen is quoted in ibid.
16 Wellhausen is quoted in ibid., p. 30.
17 Smend, p. 8.
18 Knight, p. 33.
54 The Bible and the University
concurred with Wellhausen's assessment that the religion of the pre-M ,saic
period was primitive and very similar to the tribal religions of other Semitic
peoples. 19 Further, Harper agreed with Wellhausen that the view of God
attributed to the patriarchal period reflected the beliefs of Judaism in its
post-exilic phase. Such a reconceiving of patriarchal history did not, how-
ever, lead Harper to disvalue Israel's earliest history. What made the
Hebrews special for Harper was their twenty centuries of intermigrating
among the civilizations of the ancient Near Eastern world. This "unparal-
leled" contact with all the great civilizations allowed Israel to absorb the best
from each of these contacts. 20
Harper also concurred with Wellhausen's assessment that Moses did not
author the Decalogue, at least in the form it takes in the Pentateuch. Moses
was, in Harper's estimation, a "despot" who moved his people ahead from
the polytheism of the patriarchal age to henotheism. Harper agreed that
Moses did not offer a fully developed monotheism, but felt that he did offer
a new conception of God which did not become dominant in Israel for
hundreds of years. Study of the prophetic era led Harper to share
Wellhausen's opinion that monotheism did not enter the mainstream of
Israel's life until after the Babylonian exile. 21
Like Wellhausen, Harper also found the career of Elijah to be a
watershed in Israel's history. The "prophetic revolt" of 933 B.C. was led by
this "fanatic" who secured a victory for the "country religion" of Israel over
that of its Canaanite neighbors. 22 Harper shared with Wellhausen a preoc-
cupation with the period that lasted from Elijah's time through the career of
Jeremiah. John H. Hayes has argued that Wellhausen shared in a general
19th century "rediscovery of prophecy" and that Wellhausen overempha-
sized the importance of the prophets. 23 Harper also participated in his era's
preoccupation with prophecy, which was in his estimation "the central
mountain range," the "backbone" of the Old Testament. 24
While Harper may have been sympathetic to the basic historical recon-
structions offered by Wellhausen, he differed with him regarding their
19 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 11 (May 1898):291; "Edito-
rial," ibid. 12 (September 1898): 148; "The Human Element in the Early Stories of
Genesis," ibid. 4 (October 1894):267; "A Theory of the Divine and Human Elements in
Genesis I-XI," ibid. 4 (December 1894):410; "Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element
in the Old Testament— Part II," ibid. 17 (February 1901): 124.
20 William Rainey Harper, "The Prophetic Element in the Old Testament As Related to
Christianity," unpublished lecture, Personal Papers, Box 16, Folder 9, pp. 14, 19.
21 Ibid, pp. 14, 20-21, 32.
22 William Rainey Harper, "Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element. Study VI,"
The Biblical World 24 (October 1904): 292, 299; "Editorial," The Biblical World 25 (March
23 Hayes, pp. 53-^54.
24 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 20 (August 1902):84, and
"Editorial," The Biblical World 2 (September 1893): 164.
Shaping a New Biblical World 55
interpretation. Wellhausen explained the history of Israel as a gradual
triumph of institutional religion over the free, spontaneous religion of the
individual. Harper, on the other hand, read the Old Testament progres-
sively, constantly pointing out evidence of steady development toward
higher views of God and the individual. Thus Jeremiah discovered the
"doctrine of individualism" during the relatively late period which began
with the Deuteronomic revolution (622 B.C.E.) and lasted through the exile
(beginning in 586 B.C.E.) 25 Harper agreed that prophecy culminated and
died during this period, but unlike Wellhausen he was able to trace the
continuance of a development of prophetic beliefs about God to a higher
level in Judaism. Post-exilic life developed the "highest" sense of God's
transcendence and the most pervasive sense of sin in Israel's history. While
Harper was especially drawn to the intermigratory pattern of the pre-exilic
forms of Hebrew religion and even incorporated the image into his model of
college life, he was able to attach a more positive significance to the more
inward-looking, cult-centered religion of Judaism than was Wellhausen. 26
While a description of several similar historical conclusions shared by
Harper and Wellhausen seems to support the "second conversion" argu-
ment, it is important not to overlook Harper's public statements about his
exegetical position. Those statements reveal that although he accepted many
historical findings advanced by Wellhausen and his German colleagues,
Harper appropriated those ideas selectively and set them in a framework
quite different from Wellhausen's. Rather than merely echo Wellhausen's
ideas, Harper incorporated them into his own interpretation of biblical
history which, unlike that of the great continental scholar, was both critical
There is little doubt that Harper's public stance regarding the new
biblical scholarship developed from caution as a young editor to bold
advocacy in the 1890s. But Harper's journals reveal an awareness of critical
issues from the start. In the second issue of The Hebrew Student, Harper
reprinted the views of another distinguished German scholar, Franz
Delitzsch, under the title "The New Criticism." Delitzsch had admitted that
it was "true that many, and, at least, four hands participated in the codifica-
tion of the Pentateuchal history and legislation." This more conservative
scholar warned, however, that results of biblical criticism "are not as
unquestionable as they pretend to be." In contradiction to more famous
contemporaries like Wellhausen, Delitzsch stated that he began his study
from an idea of God, from which the possibility of miracle follows,
and confessing the resurrection of Christ, it confesses the reality of a
25 Harper, "The Prophetic Element in the Old Testament As Related to Christianity,"
26 Harper, "Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element in the Old Testament. Part IV,"
The Biblical World 17 (May 1901):366ff.
56 The Bible and the University
central miracle, to which the miracles of redemption-history refer as
the planets do to the sun.
Delitzsch rejected "a priori all results of criticism which abolish the Old
Testament premises of the religion of redemption." 27
Elsewhere in the same issue the editor commented on "the burning
questions" of the day. Harper declared that what was causing
so great anxiety to many, is not so much the results of Wellhausen's
investigations as the irreverent and even frivolous manner, in which
he has declared almost the whole Mosaic law a product of the exilic
and post-exilic age, pronouncing the history of the Exodus and of the
legislation legendary or merely fictitious.
He was more congenial to Delitzsch, on the other hand, who attempted "to
show that it is possible to maintain the union of different records and
codifications in the Pentateuch without denying the essential truth of the
history, and without surrendering the reverence which we owe to the Holy
When Harper became more outspoken on critical issues in the 1890s his
public position remained much nearer to that of Delitzsch, who received
frequent favorable reviews in Harper's journals, than to that of Wellhausen,
with whom he differed on fundamental grounds. But already in 1882 Harper
rhetorically had asked, "Radical or Conservative, that is the question?" He
wondered whether views which appeared to be radical "from our American
stand-point" were really "conservative when viewed from the German
stand-point." American students should pursue the study of these issues, but
with "great care." A single irresponsible paper could do harm that years of
subsequent labor might not overcome. "Make haste slowly," he suggested,
"should be the ruling principle." Any changes in biblical interpretation that
might occur "must come gradually." 29
In March of 1886 Harper reviewed Wellhausen's troublesome but
seminal book, Prolegomena to the History of Israel. Conceding that the
work came from a "masterhand," Harper nevertheless offered several criti-
cisms reminiscent of Delitzsch's position. He faulted the work for being
"thoroughly rationalistic." It knew "nothing of infallible inspiration, nothing
of supernatural revelation." Further, the tone of the work was "far from
reverent to those who receive the Old Testament as the Word of God."
Harper felt that Wellhausen adjusted the facts to his theory. There was little
doubt that Wellhausen's scholarship was useful in presenting "the many
facts of Scripture ... in a new light" which necessitated further careful
scientific study. But, he concluded, "the truth will be more fully known; and
27 Franz Delitzsch, "The New Criticism," The Hebrew Student 1 (May 1882) :6-7.
28 William Rainey Harper, "A General Statement," The Hebrew Student 1 (May 1882): 10
and "Editorial Notes," ibid., p. 11.
29 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial Notes," The Hebrew Student 1 (June, 1882):51.
Shaping a New Biblical World 57
though received views may be modified, yet God's word will be clarified and
will shine more perfectly in the Law, the Prophets and the Scriptures." 30
Harper's early reticence about expressing his own critical views may
have had less to do with a "second conversion" than with another factor
Hoffman noticed. Aware of his constituency, Harper made haste slowly.
Although urged by journal readers and colleagues like Charles Briggs of
Union Seminary to declare himself on sensitive issues of exegesis, Harper
resisted. Instead he conducted a symposium through the pages of his journal,
asking "Shall the Analyzed Pentateuch Be Published in The Old Testament
Student?" Many said Yes. Harper declined: "The time has not yet come
when even such a journal as The Student can take up and present such
material with impunity." 31 Harper's editorial discretion — much more than a
sudden intellectual conversion — may help account for his reluctant forth-
rightness. He felt free to advance in an unambiguous way critically informed
interpretations only after those who elected him to the presidency at
Chicago had vindicated him in the face of Augustus Strong's politically
motivated heresy charges. 32
The Harper Hermeneutic
In Literary Criticism and Biblical Hermeneutics: A Critique of Formal-
ist Approaches, Lynn M. Poland has recentiy argued that as a result of the
rise of modern historical consciousness "the interpretative relation between
text and reader essentially reversed its direction." Instead of trying to fit
personal experience into an authoritative biblical world as pre-critical
readers did, modern interpreters had to accomodate the biblical material into
the new world of science and historical knowledge. Historical criticism, as
advanced by Wellhausen and his colleagues, demonstrated and deepened a
previously unrecognized "alienation of texts from the interpreter." The
result of these new approaches towards the Bible and other ancient texts
Poland labelled "the distinctive problematic of modern scriptural
hermeneutics." People in Harper's generation had to be "at once an insider
and an outsider, negotiating between the critical perspectives of the modern
sciences and the recovery of meaning for faith" if their sacred texts were to
continue to have "abiding religious significance." 33
Poland's description of the modern hermeneutical problem provides an
important clue to much of the religious turmoil of Harper's age. Shifting
30 William Rainey Harper, "Wellhausen's History of Israel," The Old Testament Student
5 (March 1886):319.
31 "A Symposium: Shall the Analyzed Pentateuch Be Published in The Old Testament
Student" 7 (June, 1888):312-19 and "Editorial" ibid., p. 306.
32 The accusation of heresy against Harper by Augustus H. Strong is discussed below, pp.
33 Lynn M. Poland, Literary Criticism and Biblical Hermeneutics: A Critique ofFormal-
istic Approaches (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985), p. 33, 24.
58 The Bible and the University
relationships between modern readers of Scripture and their sacred book
were apparent in the ferment of 19th century biblical scholarship and in the
dramatic surge of popular interest in biblical subjects to which Harper's
Both Harper's scholarly career and his university presidency must be set
within the context of the fracturing of traditional relationships between
Protestants and their primary source of authority, the Bible. In the face of
such trauma, Harper attempted to construct a new scientific hermeneutic,
based on facts established by "reverent criticism." In essence, he attempted
to carry out a critical reformation of a relationship at the center of America's
Some of Harper's sharpest words were reserved for conventional notions
of biblical interpretation which prevailed in 19th-century America. Years of
preparation and study led him to label traditional approaches to Scripture as
"artificial and monstrous." Harper first concluded that the Bible had in fact
been "misrepresented," and then embarked upon a vocation of "clearing
away the rubbish" that separated modern readers from the sacred book.
From his perspective the "babbling" of traditional interpreters was more
dangerous to modern readers than were "the sneers of an Ingersoll," the
quintessential infidel of the era. Looking backward he discerned that literal
and artificial methods of interpretation had blinded first century Jews,
locking them into a way of believing that kept them from recognizing Jesus
as Messiah. Faulty interpretation also blinded modern readers to the true
message of the Scriptures in the 19th century. 34
For Harper the evangelical faith was at "the parting of the ways"
regarding Bible study. He divided American attitudes toward the Bible into
three categories. While many fell into the "sin" of bibliolatry, others
gathered at the opposite end of the spectrum, filled with skepticism. A third
group remained indifferent to scriptural claims. But all three groups misread
their sacred texts. 35 Of those who bothered to read the Bible fully three
quarters seemed to allegorize or spiritualize its contents. Noting that system-
atic theologians were speaking with a "less confident tone," Harper's journal
proclaimed that popular evangelical theology was "docetic" and "gnostic."
An a priorist approach to the Scriptures made Jesus into "an extra-legal
interruption into history" rather than a fully historical, and therefore believ-
able figure. Popular readers placed the Bible outside history — separate from
34 William Rainey Harper, "A Theory of the Divine and Human Elements in Genesis
I-XI," The Biblical World 4 (December 1894):418; "Editorial," The Old and New Testa-
ment Student 15 (July/August 1892):4-5; "Editorial," ibid. 10 (February 1890):71-72;
"Outline Topics in the History of Old Testament Prophecy: Study 11," The Biblical World
7 (February 1896): 129.
35 William Rainey Harper, "The Parting of the Ways," The Biblical World 20 (July
1902):3ff; "Some General Considerations Relating to Genesis I-XI," ibid. 4 (September
Shaping a New Biblical World 59
it — and did not view its various books as responses to the historical events
and beliefs of a people. 36
Harper refused to "degrade" God as the a priorists did by making divine
activity fit into the mold of literal understandings. Instead he offered a
"reasonable view" that allowed no bifurcation between devotional and
intellectual approaches to the Scriptures. The Bible was not two books, he
claimed, but one. No longer did the Bible occupy the "supreme position" it
once held. Indeed, the misuse of the book had relegated it to a "secondary"
For these reasons, Harper's journals took on a missionary hue as they
relentlessly advocated a new approach to the Scriptures. Proper study would
carry one past the threshold of doubt as the old understandings (rubbish)
slipped away. If students followed Harper's approach, the end of the process
was a new "home." The "critical question" for his era was how to carry the
student through the transition period from the embrace of one perspective to
adoption of another. One had to endure the painful stage of "passage from
an unthinking to a rational faith." 37
Harper's most complete statement about issues of interpretation was a
lecture, "The Rational and The Rationalistic Higher Criticism," given at
Chautauqua on August 2, 1892. Assuming that the Bible held a "place
fundamental in all thought and life," Harper observed that conflict raged
about the book "on every side." Unfortunately, to the general public the
word "criticism" conveyed an "unpleasant idea," but to Harper the word
simply meant "inquiry." In that sense "every real student of the Sacred
Word is a higher critic." The higher critic sought
to discover the date of the book, its authorship, the particular circum-
stances under which it had its origin, the various characteristics of
style which it presents; the occasion of the book; the purpose which
in the mind of its author it was intended to subserve. 38
Working with this understanding of criticism Harper had been able on an
earlier occasion to hold up as an example of higher criticism his conservative
counterpart in the Pentateuchal debates which had gone on in Hebraica.
Thus Princeton's Professor Henry Green, who opposed the critical opinions
of Wellhausen and other "radical critics," had received an unsolicited
36 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 2 (August 1893):83; "Edito-
rial," ibid. 9 (February 1897):81; "Editorial," ibid. 16 (August 1900):84.
37 William Rainey Harper, "A Theory of the Divine and Human Elements in Genesis
I-XI," The Biblical World 4 (December 1894):419; "Editorial," The Old and New Testa-
ment Student 13 (November 1891):258; "Editorial," The Biblical World 2 (July 1893):4;
"Editorial," ibid. 2 (August 1893):81; "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 12
(January 1891):3; "Editorial," The Biblical World 13 (February 1899):65.
38 William Rainey Harper, "The Rational and the Rationalistic Higher Criticism,"
Chautauqua Assembly Herald 17 (August 4, 1892):2-3, 6-7.
60 The Bible and the University
compliment which may not have helped an already confused public grasp a
complex issue. 39
Harper urged his Chautauqua listeners to join "in an effort to distinguish
the true criticism from the false, a rational criticism from a rationalistic."
These two types of criticism did not differ primarily in purpose, principles or
material. The difference between the two was "in the method of work and in
the spirit" with which the work was conducted. The rationalistic critic gave
"undue prominence to the authority of reason." Two groups were subclasses
of this type. One class enthroned reason as sole authority, "denying the
authority of the scriptures, and the supernatural origin of Christianity." The
other group did not sense its affinities with the explicitly rationalistic
viewpoint. These interpreters magnified the authority of Scripture, but
unconsciously placed reason "still higher." This group's argument pro-
ceeded, "God being so and so, therefore . . . ; Jesus Christ being so and so,
therefore. . . ." Although their premises were opposite, one class denying
supernatural revelation and the other affirming it, the groups really operated
with "two parallel formulas." The "great multitude of critics" belonged to
one or the other of the subclasses. 40
Yet "here and there," Harper claimed, one might find a "disciple of
another school," one "hardly yet organized." This was the "rational school,"
and although Harper did not say so, he was its champion. The first
characteristic of a rational critic was a "scientific" spirit that moved through
a three-step process: induction, reasoning and verification. Rational critics
first observed, then formulated conclusions and finally sought to "find a
theory which shall include all the facts." To be truly scientific, the critic held
conclusions "subject to modifications or verification from other similar
Both traditional interpreters and "materialistic" ones operated under the
guise of science. But Harper cautioned that their approaches were
"scientistic not scientific." One way of distinguishing between rational and
rationalistic stances was to discern whether interpreters were "broad and
open" or "narrow and dogmatic." In making such a determination, Harper
risked a judgment of his own profession. Specialists were "of necessity"
narrow individuals, who often had "an inability to generalize." Rational
critics, however, based their conclusions "upon all the facts and upon those
facts arranged in their proper relations." Wellhausen and other representa-
tives of "those who deny the supernatural origin" of the Bible, were guilty
of just such a "narrowness beyond belief," which led to "a dogmatism of the
most arrogant type." 42
39 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 6 (October 1886):36.
40 Harper, "Rational and Rationalistic," p. 3.
42 Ibid., pp. 3-4.
Shaping a New Biblical World 61
Another mark of the rational spirit was its "constructive" character.
Scholars had to search for the foundations of phenomena, but care was
required so that untrained minds were not "led to give up old positions
before new positions have been formulated." Harper spotted many "theo-
logical and religious wrecks" on his horizon and concluded that the "work of
destruction must be distinguished from the spirit of destruction." At times it
was necessary to challenge cherished beliefs, but the motive and manner of
this destructive work was crucial. People animated by the destructive spirit
"seem possessed by the evil one himself, so malignant is their feeling, so
malicious is their purpose." 43
The final mark of rational criticism was reverence. The reverent critic
did not see God as "some far distant power" but rather as "a father"
interested in all the activities of the creation. A rational critic believed "in a
divine revelation culminating in the incarnation of the deity himself and in
the life on earth and death and resurrection of that incarnate Word." Such
revelation was gradual, "coming little by little through the centuries." For
Harper the most telling difference between rational and rationalistic critics
was whether the motivating spirit was one of reverence or blasphemy. 44
Elsewhere Harper asserted that the key ingredient in biblical criticism was
a "believing point of view." 45
In a very preliminary and undeveloped way, Harper anticipated the
distinction between the hermeneutics of belief and the hermeneutics of
suspicion which Paul Ricoeur developed decades later in his significant
work on the interpretation of Scripture. 46 Like Ricoeur, Harper found it
necessary to move beyond both implicit faith and critical inquiry. The true
biblical scholar still expected the text to address him after the critical process
had occurred. Unlike Ricoeur and others of his generation, Harper gave his
major effort to the critical uncovering of the history behind the text, rather
than to the text as a distinct entity.
At other times Harper assigned different labels to his method of studying
the Scriptures. Seven years prior to the presentation of his Chautauqua
lecture on the subject, Harper had commented in the Old Testament
Student about three schools of interpretation: the rationalistic, the allegoriz-
ing and the historico-grammatical, "the school of our century." 47 In 1896 and
again in 1904 he distinguished among three schools of the interpretation of
43 Ibid., p. 6.
44 Ibid., p. 7.
45 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 8 (October 1888):44.
46 Ricoeur developed the idea of a "conflict of interpretations" or "war of hermeneutics"
in Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1970), pp. 54-56. He names the two schools in the conflict "the
school of suspicion" and "the school of reminiscence" (p. 32).
47 William Rainey Harper, "The Age of Common Sense in Interpretation," The Old
Testament Student 5 (October 1885):88.
62 The Bible and the University
prophecy: rationalistic, predictive and historical. Those within the last group
of interpreters could be classified either as "conditional" or "idealistic"
interpreters. 48 Locating himself among the "idealistic" interpreters who
recognized the gradual realizations of ideals throughout Israel's history,
Harper fashioned a via media between the supernatural claims of evangel-
ical faith and the fresh discoveries of historical investigation. As he plumbed
for the "fundamental ideas" of biblical material, Harper avoided choosing
either of two unpalatable alternatives: he did not ignore the results of
modern knowledge, but neither did he renounce the divine factor in his-
The Scientific Study of The Scriptures
Like many Americans of his era, Harper was enamored of science.
Scientific vocabulary colored his writing, and he urged his students to be
scientific in their manner. In a dissertation on the development of scientific
study at the University of Chicago, however, Lincoln C. Blake has suggested
that while Harper may have believed that he shared in the scientific spirit of
his age, in reality his understanding of the natural sciences was more
superficial. Harper's decisions when hiring two professors for his nascent
science departments revealed to Blake that although he was a professional in
his own field, Harper was only a layman in the realms of natural and physical
Recalling Harper's undergraduate and graduate education and his lim-
ited exposure to German notions of Wissenschaft except as mediated
through filtering agents like Professor Whitney of Yale, it is likely that his
scientific method was a descendant of the common-sense philosophy of
Scotiand's Thomas Reid. In The Enlightenment in America, Henry F. May
demonstrated that this common-sense approach "reigned supreme" in
American education throughout the greater part of the 19th century. 50 For
most American scientists, gathering all the facts, arranging them in catego-
ries, and inducing a hypothesis equalled "science." Evidence, for these
investigators, seemed rather unambiguous; their problem was simply the
incompleteness of knowledge. Echoes of this common-sense version of
science can be observed in Harper's statements about his science.
In the March 1888 Old Testament Student, for example, Harper defined
scientific Bible study as
48 William Rainey Harper, "Outline Topics in the History of Old Testament Prophecy:
Study III," The Biblical World 7 (March 1896): 199; "Constructive Studies in the Prophetic
Element in the Old Testament," ibid. 23 (January 1904):57.
49 Lincoln C. Blake, "The Concept and Development of Science at The University of
Chicago 1890-1905" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1966).
50 Henry F. May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press,
1976), p. 348.
Shaping a New Biblical World 63
study in the process of which (1) scientific methods are employed; (2)
adherence is maintained to the laws of human speech; (3) allowance
is made for all the factors which enter into the problem under
consideration; (4) the truth is sought, regardless of previous precon-
It was not
study in the process of which (1) methods belonging to the dark ages
are used; (2) the simplest laws of language are violated; (3) only facts
favorable to the theory are considered, the others wrested or ignored;
(4) a theory must be established, whether by fair or foul means. 51
Harper admitted that he was not too "rigid" in his employment of an
inductive approach. There was a danger, he felt, of induction from one set of
facts to the exclusion of others. Thus, while encouraging the reading of the
Bible as a piece of great literature, he warned against the inherent danger of
reading it as "mere literature." The "supernatural element" would be lost if
only literary facts were admitted to the inquiry. One must "find a theory
which shall include all the facts." For him a "nonreligious study of the
Bible" was every bit as "unscientific" as a non-historical variety. 52
If the scholar participated in a scientific viewing of "the wonderful
facts" of the scriptural record, according to Harper, he or she would be led to
"no other explanation but that of God." Following his inductive method to
its ultimate conclusion, Harper posited the "hypothesis of the divine factor"
in Israel's history. How else, he argued, could one account for this people's
peculiar monotheism in the midst of Arabian polytheism? Historical inves-
tigation led him to affirm the "supreme facts of Revealed religion . . . God,
Christ, Sin, Eternal life, retribution." As a scientific student of the Bible,
Harper defended the truthfulness of its writers, even while accepting critical
challenges to their literal or historical accuracy. Consideration of their
exalted faith led him to argue that it was "psychologically impossible" for
prophets to "palm off' false narratives on unsuspecting readers. 53
Imitating the language of a scientist in his laboratory, Harper wrote that
after all the human elements in the biblical material had been analyzed there
remained a "divine element" which was the "residuum which cannot be
attributed to man." Since the divine was discernible if one was properly
scientific in method, it was possible for the faith of modern believers to share
a scientific character and certainty. Faith could be constructed on a scientific
51 Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 7 (March 1888):211.
52 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 9 (August
1889):65, 68-70; "Rational and Rationalistic," p. 3; "Editorial," The Biblical World 10
(November 1897) :322.
53 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 9 (October
1889): 196; "The Divine Element in the Early Stories of Genesis," The Biblical World 4
(November 1894):356; "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 12 (March
1891):131; "Editorial," ibid. 12 (June 1891):324.
64 The Bible and the University
basis; belief equalled accepting the evidence. One cultivated belief by
analyzing the evidence and arranging life according to it. 54
Harper's scientific approach to faith allowed him to bridge, at least in his
own eyes, the epistemological gap between reason and reception of revela-
tion. It followed then that the apostle Paul had been mistaken when he
pitted the foolishness of God against the wisdom of humans. God's activity
was natural; there was an "essential harmony" between nature's laws and
the working of the Kingdom of God. Harper could see the "same Divine
methods in human life everywhere." Searching for truth was equivalent to
"searching for God." The "grandest fact" was that God did not speak one
word in nature and another in revelation; there was one Word of God in both.
The child and the savage found supernatural evidence only in the startling,
exceptional events of history. The "instructed mind," on the other hand, saw
God in the world of natural law and order. 55
Having established an essential continuity between the Bible and the
world of historical and scientific truth, Harper was not troubled by various
facts which threatened believers adhering to more traditional perspectives.
The existence of 150,000 different scribal renderings in a host of New
Testament manuscripts did not weaken his scientifically established faith.
Neither did the fact that the Pentateuch had four authors rather than the one
of tradition. It was "pseudo-science" to claim that there was nothing
historical in the Bible. To claim that every jot and tittle of it was historically
accurate was "pseudo-orthodoxy." What Harper advocated was "biblical
science," an awareness that the Bible was a historical product but that it
contained very little history, as moderns defined the term. It was a "sacri-
lege" to make the Bible into a scientific treatise. 56
To such a scientist, the world became a laboratory. His popular journal,
The Biblical World, called for making both church and university into
laboratories where religious truth could be discovered and applied. So
compatible were science and the Bible that in one editorial the Holy Land
of Palestine was transformed into God's great laboratory, devoted to the
solution of a single problem: how to live. In this reading, the Old Testament
became a scientific notebook kept by a host of "laboratory assistants" who
labored in different periods of experimentation. 57
54 Harper, "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 8 (January 1889): 162;
"Editorial," The Biblical World 1 (June 1893):403.
55 Harper, "Editorial," The Old and Neiv Testament Student 10 (May 1890):263; "Edito-
rial," The Old Testament Student 8 (October 1888):41.
56 Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 3 (March 1894): 163-64; "Paradise and the First
Sin: Genesis III," ibid., p. 176; "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 14
(February 1892):65; "The First Hebrew Story of Creation" The Biblical World 3 (January
57 Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 24 (December 1904) :407; "Editorial," ibid. 9
Shaping a New Biblical World 65
"All the facts" included evidence of development. Harper was aware of
the significance of evolutionary theory, even if he refrained from comment
upon its implications for Old Testament creation accounts. His recasting of
Israel's history, his understanding of the subsequent history of Christianity
and his notions of progressive revelation depended upon a developmental
model of history. For him the human story was "one great stream," which
flowed gradually upward. The history of the Hebrews, for example, passed
through three progressive stages: Semitic, Israelite, and Judaistic. In each
age or stage or religious development, new and higher knowledge of the
"divine method or work" emerged. 58 The advent of Jesus did not end the
developmental process. Instead Christianity steadily matured until it arrived
at its current "transition stage" moving gradually from a lower ritualistic
level toward what Harper believed would be a higher, more spiritual plane.
The Scriptures provided the primary raw material for Harper's progres-
sive views. The Bible could be viewed as "a theistic interpretation" of social
evolution. In it one found the "literary remains" of every stage of life of the
Hebrew people. 59 In a personal letter to Augustus Strong, who accused him
of false doctrine during the critical days of John D. Rockefeller's delibera-
tions about the future location of the proposed Baptist university, Harper
revealed that he followed a method which he called "the typical interpre-
tation." He affirmed that "the whole Pentateuch," including its history,
institutions, and any miscellaneous material "pointed directly and definitely
to Christ." He objected, however, to "the old interpretation" which found "a
definite statement concerning the historic Christ in every chapter or verse."
All the "so-called Messianic passages," even the cherished Protoevangelium
in Genesis 3:15, had their "final fulfillment in the Christ." But Harper
insisted — "as today all Old Testament exegetes insist" — upon the typologi-
cal interpretation. 60
In his explanation to Strong, Harper quoted from a lecture he had
delivered at Vassar College:
God is unchangeable in that he always acts with certain eternal,
unchangeable principles. He is unchangeable in so far as he is
continually presenting to us everywhere enlarging manifestations of
himself and of his plans. His movement in history is a spiral; all
motion in one ring of the spiral is a prophecy of a higher and larger
ring. The type is the lower ring of the spiral of which the antitype is
the higher or highest ring . . . ; type is a historical person, thing or fact
58 Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 11 (May 1898):289ff; "Editorial," ibid. 9 (May
1897):327; "Editorial," ibid. 1 (April, 1893):247.
59 Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 17 (February 1901):84; "Editorial," ibid.
(March 1901): 163.
60 William Rainey Harper to [Augustus H. Strong], January 4, 1889, Personal Papers, Box
1, Folder 8.
66 The Bible and the University
definitely intended to prefigure some corresponding person, thing or
fact in the future. 61
Revelation spiralled in widening circles, ever upward. It was dynamic; it
could be outgrown. The folktale preceded the Law in Israel's history in the
same fashion as the Law preceded Christ. Each lower stage was "school-
master" to the higher. Old Testament and New were two dispensations from
the same source. They were related as preparation to fulfillment, fragment to
unity, transition to permanence. 62
Harper steadfastly refused to separate religious and secular history. The
"laws of life" controlled the religious spirit in the same way that they
influenced developments in other areas of human experience. There were
"strata" in religious developments just as there were in other phases of life.
The problem with the old theology was that it "had not grasped the idea of
law, or an organic development in the history of revelation." 63
"All the facts" also included insights from the new academic discipline
of comparative religion. Harper's writings contain frequent references to
new discoveries about ancient religions of the near East and other civiliza-
tions. Just as he embraced the supposedly troublesome world of modern
science, so Harper welcomed this emerging discipline, which was often a
stumbling block to those who argued for Christian uniqueness. 64 In a lecture
titled "The Bible and the Monuments" Harper characteristically reviewed
the latest findings of scholarly research and then converted the data into
62 Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 17 (March 1901): 165; "Editorial," ibid. 3 (May
63 Harper, "The University and Religious Education," The Biblical World 24 (Novem-
ber 1904):326-27; "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 13 (December 1891):
64 The study of comparative religion was introduced to America by James Freeman Clarke
in 1867. How compelling the subject became for Harper can be seen in his active support
for the new field. Beginning in 1893 The Biblical World devoted a special section to the
young discipline. One year earlier the University of Chicago had appointed Professor
George Stephen Goodspeed to head its new Department of Comparative Religion in the
Divinity School, the first such department in America. Professor Joseph M. Kitagawa has
traced the history of the discipline in his essay "The History of Religions in America," The
History of Religions: Essays in Methodology, Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa, eds.
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959), pp. 2, 17. According to Kitagawa the "key to
the scientific investigation of religions was philology" for early figures in the discipline like
Max Muller. Harper's interest in comparative philology had begun during his doctoral
program at Yale. He was thus prepared to be congenial to the new philological discoveries
when they were reported.
Shaping a New Biblical World 67
evidence which could support an argument for the inspiration of the
Christian Scriptures. 65
According to his survey, there were 50,000 recently unearthed ancient
Near Eastern clay tablets in museums around the world, of which a mere
2000 had been read. Among the startling discoveries which Harper shared
with his listeners were new findings about the origins of many of Israel's
religious practices and beliefs. For example, "the 'Sabbath,' the day of rest,
was Accadian." The sacred number seven had "descended to the Semites
from their Accadian predecessors." Distinctions between clean and unclean
food "were as clearly marked among Babylonians and Assyrians as among
the Israelites." Even the interpretation of so pivotal a figure in Israel's
history as Moses was affected by the new discoveries. The biblical account
of Moses' childhood sounded very similar to an Accadian legend which
claimed that one thousand years before Moses, Sargon of Accad "was born in
concealment; placed by his mother in a basket of rushes, launched on a river,
rescued, and brought up by a stranger, after which he became king." Harper
wondered if he should "accept that interpretation of the word Moses, which
makes it not Egyptian, but Masu (Accadian or Semitic) with the meaning
Hero, a most common Semitic appelation from the earliest times?" 66
The similarities between Israel and its neighbors did not end with
names of ancient leaders. Hebrew poetry borrowed its distinctive and
characteristic "parallelism" from the Accadian people. Accadian penitential
psalms antedated those of the Hebrew Psalter by "a thousand or more
Ranging across sources as disparate as those in Sanskrit and Polynesian
languages, Harper compared the primordial history of Israel with accounts of
other religions. There were extra-biblical accounts of rainbows and deluges
that shared a similarity of "essential facts" with the Genesis material. Other
religions related a "fall" from a state of innocence and told of mythical trees
of life. Such evidence, Harper concluded, led to an unsettling realization:
the Hebrew accounts of the origins of the world and human life were not
original. Rather, the different religious accounts were "sister stories," all
descendants from a common source — "an objective historical fact which
impressed itself upon the minds of many nations." 68
Discoveries by students of archaelogy and comparative religion, which
brought others to spiritual crisis in the Gilded Age, did not overwhelm
65 William Rainey Harper, "The Bible and the Monuments," Unpublished Lecture,
Personal Papers, Box 16, Folder 1.
66 Ibid., pp. 18, 49-52.
67 Ibid., p. 54.
68 William Rainey Harper, "The Deluge in Other Literatures and History," The Biblical
World 4 (August 1894): 115; "The Hebrew Stories of the Deluge, Genesis VI-IX," ibid. 4
(July 1894):30; "Paradise and the First Sin, Genesis III," ibid. 3 (March 1894): 185; "The
Human Element in the Early Stories of Genesis," ibid. 4 (October 1894):277-78.
68 The Bible and the University
Harper. Instead he marvelled at the "wonderful resemblances" between
Christianity and other religions. He also noted decisive differences. When
he compared Hebrew creation accounts with those of other Near Eastern
religions he found those of Israel's neighbors to be
polytheistic in the extreme, even pantheistic; confusing, confound-
ing; characterized by imperfections and weaknesses of every kind;
remarkably similar in tone and spirit to the mythological productions
of Greece and Rome.
In short, these stories were "debasing." Israel's accounts, on the other hand,
monotheistic, ethical; clear, and distinct; unhesitating. Well nigh
perfect in form and utterance, sublime in tone and spirit; as unlike
Greek and Roman myths as the sun is unlike the moon.
In a word, they were "elevating." 69
The particular genius of the Israelites was their ability to demythologize
the religious stories of their sister peoples. The story of the nephilim in
Genesis 6, for example, showed how the Hebrew prophets transformed
stories grounded in "exuberant polytheism" and the elaborate mythology of
popular legends into vehicles bearing monotheistic meaning. Only in
Genesis did the heavenly consorts lose their godlike status. The nephilim
became angels only in the "purified" legend in Genesis which was used to
"subvert" the superstition of the age. 70
For Harper the comparative approach did not undermine the impor-
tance of the sacred Scriptures. On the contrary, careful comparative work
underscored the uniqueness and superiority of the biblical message. Harper
found an "essential difference between the profane and sacred accounts" of
the ancient world, and he approvingly quoted Professor Charles Rufus
Brown concerning the "infinite gap between the Hebrew and his brother
The thing which every Bible scholar is most concerned for, is
that root-element which distinguishes the Hebrew people from all the
ancient peoples, and the Hebrew writings from all other ancient
literature. The one great distinctive feature of the literary monuments
of the Hebrews is that they were informed by a spirit to which the
inscriptions of Nineveh and Babylon are utter strangers. There is a
truth of spiritual conception, a loftiness of spiritual tone, a conviction
of unseen realities, a confident reliance upon an invisible and all-
controlling power, a humble worship in the presence of the supreme
69 Harper, "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 16 (September/October
1892):91; "The Bible and the Monuments," p. 59.
70 William Rainey Harper, "The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men. Genesis VI," The
Biblical World 3 (June 1894):446-47; "The Fratricide: The Canaanite Civilization. Gene-
sis IV," ibid. (April 1894):270.
Shaping a New Biblical World 69
majesty, a peace in union and communion with the one and only God,
and the vigorous germs of an ethics reflecting his will . . . . 71
Nor did the distinctiveness of the Bible require repudiation of other
religious traditions. Harper simply absorbed the new data as one more
source of light shed on the fundamental elements of religious life.
A New Argument for the Inspiration of Scriptures
The more Harper surveyed the findings of scientifically studied religion,
the more convinced he became that the Bible was divine, inspired. When he
compared various accounts of events, or psalms, or poetry, he found in the
Scriptures "a something which seizes hold of us; moves us powerfully;
inspires us." He looked for that same element in other religious sources, but
it was "wholly lacking." Instead he discovered in the others "a dullness, a
flatness, an insipidity which disappoints and at times almost disgusts." Why,
he asked, when the same subject, story or experience was treated in various
texts, "why is not the spirit the same?" There was one suitable answer. The
one set of writings was "only human." The other set, the Hebrew Scriptures,
was "human, to be sure, but also divine." By surveying and comparing the
various texts of the ancient religions, Harper felt he could find "direct"
evidence which was "absolutely conclusive and must be convincing." With
a new scientific version of Christian triumphalism, Harper announced the
discovery of a new "fact," one "capable of scientific demonstration, that the
Old Testament, the Bible is, and that too when considered from an Assyrian
point of view, God-given." 72
Harper's conviction about the superiority of the Bible led him to an
almost mystical sense of the uniqueness of Hebrew history. In a series of
unpublished lectures on prophecy he subtly inverted the traditional argu-
ment for inspiration. Inerrantists usually argued from the divine character of
their perfect book to the historical certainty that events happened the way
the book described them. Harper changed direction.
The historical situation is the divine, the prophecy is the human
interpretation of the situation by a man who is himself included in the
situation and is therefore divinely guided.
All of Israel's history was "supernatural history." To speak of various
miracles in the Scriptures was to lose sight of the fact that the "whole history
of the chosen nation is one stupendous miracle." God "moved in Israelitish
history as in no other." 73
71 Harper, "The Bible and the Monuments," pp. 61-62.
72 Ibid., pp. 65-68.
73 William Rainey Harper, "General Questions About Prophecy: Lecture VII," unpub-
lished lecture, Personal Papers, Box 16, Folder 8, pp. 3fb, 4fa, 13fa.
70 The Bible and the University
Thus history, not the divine book, was the primary inspired medium.
For Harper historical knowledge became "fundamental." Scientific study
enabled scholars to draw nearer to the primary locus of inspiration. It was
important to remember that "in every case the record followed the transac-
tion." Harper went to the heart of the Christian message with his claim.
Give me the one great event in the history of the Christian church, the
resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I care nothing for the record of that.
It is the fact upon which Christianity is based.
Rather than wage war for a hermetically sealed book, Harper set out to do
battle for the history behind it. This "wonderfully moulded history," the
"one great miracle" of the "inspiration of the history of the chosen people,"
was the one thing for which "we shall today make our fight." If people
granted the inspiration of Hebrew history "first of all," Harper was certain
that "all the rest will follow." 74
The prophets had been the great interpreters of inspired history. By
making the subject of "prophecy" the central emphasis in his Old Testa-
ment studies, Harper placed himself in the prophetic stream, reinterpreting
history for moderns who needed to encounter the presence of God in history,
not merely within written traditions.
In a private letter to Mrs. J.B. Stewart, a Bible student from Butte
County, California, Harper offered one more argument for the inspiration of
the Bible certain to unnerve advocates of a dictation theory of inspiration. He
repeated the assertion that the Bible was the "human record of a process of
divine teaching." But one determined whether or not it was inspired by
testing with the question, "Does it inspire?" Harper asked that question of
the Scriptures and answered that "no other literature in the world has ever
inspired men to such attainments in high and holy living." 75
Rather than beginning with prior assumptions about the Bible, Harper's
"inductive" theory of inspiration encouraged readers to examine the evi-
dence of the Scriptures, comparative religions, history, and human experi-
ence with the book and then to define a position. The "question of
questions" in his age was that of the inspiration of Scripture. Old theories of
interpretation might be shaken, but for Harper the fact of inspiration
remained. The human scaffolding surrounding Scripture may have crum-
bled, but for him the "temple of truth" stood firm. A "valiant service for the
cause of truth" would be done when the "verbal theory" of inspiration was
"forever silenced." 76
74 Ibid., p. 16fb.
75 William Rainey Harper to Mrs. J.B. Stewart, April 11, 1903, Personal Papers, Box 6,
76 Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 4 (February 1885):284; "Editorial,"
The Old and New Testament Student 11 (November 1890):260-61; "Editorial," The
Biblical World 2 (August 1893):84-85; "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student
Shaping a New Biblical World 71
The Invisible Role of Religious Experience
A hidden element in both Harper's reconstruction of biblical history and
his assertion of its uniqueness and importance was his personal religious
experience. Throughout his career he took the relationship of that experi-
ence to his hermeneutic for granted, never pausing to examine it. Just as he
traced his lifework to the conversion experienced during his early teaching
days in Ohio, so his confidence in the message of the Scriptures seems to
have been authenticated by private religious experience, alongside publicly
discussed scientific evidence. Editorials in the Biblical World occasionally
argued for the necessity of religious experience for true biblical interpreta-
tion. There was apparently "higher evidence" than even the most carefully
collected scientific data. 77
The problem with the prevailing understanding of the Old Testament
was that it "kept many men from putting themselves into an attitude where
they might receive the experience necessary to salvation." No theology
"ever saved any man from his sins." Theology was "only a human philo-
sophical interpretation" of certain parts of religious experience and "it must
always be the experience that brings salvation." Harper hoped that the New
Theology being built on the results of scientific study of the Scriptures
would create a "hospitable attitude toward the fundamental truths and
experiences of Christianity." 78
The result of Harper's reconstruction of the biblical materials was a
modern form of Christianity built upon two foundations — the scientific study
of the Scriptures, and personal religious experience. Harper never worked
out the exact relationship between the two. The possibility that all his
scientific certainty might be erected upon an experiential foundation avail-
able only to certain individuals with histories or temperaments like his did
not seem to trouble him. The problem of relating specific interpretations to
pre-understandings or beliefs which became so pressing for students of
hermeneutics from the time of Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher on through
contemporary scholars like Paul Ricouer did not seem to concern him. 79
11 (September 1890): 129; "Editorial," The Biblical World 1 (April 1893):246; "Editorial,"
The Old and New Testament Student 14 (February 1892) :69.
77 Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 25 (April 1905):245; William Rainey Harper
and George S. Goodspeed, "The Gospel of John. Study I," The Old and New Testament
Student 12 (January 1891):52.
78 William Rainey Harper to Rev. G.D. Edwards, February 11, 1905, Personal Papers, Rox
8, Folder 19.
79 For an overview of the history of hermeneutic theory see Kurt Mueller-Vollmer's
"Introduction: Language, Mind and Artifact: An Outline of Hermeneutic Theory Since the
Enlightenment," in Kurt Mueller- Vollmer, ed., Texts of the German Tradition from the
Enlightenment to the Present (New York: Continuum, 1985), pp. 1-53. An example of Paul
Ricouer's response to this problem is Essays on Biblical Interpretation, Lewis S. Mudge,
ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p. 58.
72 The Bible and the University
Instead Harper focused his attention on reshaping the American reli-
gious environment in the image of his reconstructed biblical world. The
reinterpretation of the Scriptures provided the impetus for his critical
reformation. Biblical criticism became the starting point for attempting a
reconstruction of the Christian faith and church. In order to foster his
reformation of biblical understanding Harper sought to transform the basic
educational configuration of the late 19th century.
Harper's Place Within the World of Birlical Scholarship
The portrait of Harper advanced in this chapter is that of a cautious
scholar-editor who, while being open to insights from German scholarship,
was free to value those insights in his own characteristic manner. Clearly
Harper was not a seminal scholar; there are no major new paradigms
announced or offered in his work. But what was distinctive about him was
his openness to knowledge from many sources and his ability to "blend and
reconcile" perspectives and knowledge which many felt were incompati-
ble. 80 That distinctiveness becomes apparent when Harper is examined in
relation first to the history of the Divinity School he created at the University
of Chicago, and subsequently to other major developments within the field
of biblical scholarship.
The difficulty of relating Harper to the history of the Divinity School
readily is apparent in the ongoing debate about the existence of a distinct
"Chicago School," with its own unique scholarly methods and assumptions.
Among those who agree that such a school exists or existed, there is further
debate about the membership of the School and the nature of its project.
William J. Hynes, one of those who has attempted to reconstruct the history
of the Chicago School, identified at least three different definitions which
have been advanced in various scholars' efforts to organize an ambiguous
period in the Divinity School's history:
in various contexts, the Chicago School is spoken of as either (a) a
school of New Testament interpretation, for example, by E.C. Colwell
and Robert Funk, (b) a school of theology, for example, by [A.C.]
McGiffert and [Bernard] Meland, or (c) as a school of church history
by Sidney Ahlstrom who sees a "disproportionate number" of this
century's American church historians as being from the Chicago
Harvey Arnold has dated the origins of "the Chicago School of Theol-
80 Harper's ability to "blend and reconcile" various academic models was first noticed by
Lawrence Veysey in The Emergence of the American University (Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press, 1965) pp. 367-80. Veysey's characterization is discussed below, pp.
81 William J. Hynes, Shirley Jackson Case and the Chicago School: The Socio-Historical
Method (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1981), p. 13.
Shaping a New Biblical World 73
ogy" from 1906, the year of Harper's death. In Arnold's version, Harper set
the stage for the development of an important approach to the study of
Christianity, its Scriptures and religion in general. By building the univer-
sity, making the Divinity School an organic part of it, and recruiting the
school's faculty, Harper provided the context in which a distinctive way of
thinking could emerge. But Harper, according to this telling, had little to do
with the intellectual thrust of the "school." That thrust would be the result
of efforts during the post-Harper era, when second-generation Divinity
School faculty members such as George Burman Foster, Shailer Mathews
and Shirley Jackson Case came into prominence. 82
In a different version of the early history of the Divinity School, Robert
Funk has described two "dynasties" which vied for prominence in the field
of biblical studies. The first such dynasty, Harper's, was characterized by a
philological and historical approach to the Scriptures. The second, which
came to be identified as the socio-historical method, turned away from
Harper's preoccupation with the scriptural text. Its progenitor, according to
Funk, was Ernest DeWitt Burton, professor of New Testament at the
Divinity School from its founding in 1892 and eventually the third president
of the university. In essence, Funk claimed, the Divinity School shifted
instruments in its attempts to understand the importance of the biblical
message for modern Americans. Emphasis on the scriptural text gave way to
concerns for the social history that surrounded that text; to pursuit of the
events and experiences that lay behind it; and to assessment of the various
interpretations given over centuries of transmission.
Funk advanced several explanations for the shift in methods and
dynasties. The first Divinity School faculty had been transplanted from a
Baptist seminary in Morgan Park, Illinois. Its members were not university-
oriented; many of them did not have graduate degrees. The second gener-
ation, on the other hand (people like Mathews and Case), came with new
models of scholarship drawn from university-based graduate programs.
Those who followed and developed the socio-historical line were respond-
ing to different issues than those of textual interpretation which so vexed
American believers in the days when Harper rose to prominence.
In place of the philological expertise of the first generation, or in
addition to it, they had to meet the full thrust of the physical and social
sciences. This accounts for their heavy concentration in history,
sociology, and psychology. By these means they hoped to overcome
the scholarly limitations of traditional divinity, without sacrificing the
prestige that still attached to philological competence. 83
82 Charles Harvey Arnold, Near the Edge of Battle: A Short History of the Divinity School
and the "Chicago School of Theology," 1866-1966 (Chicago: The Divinity School Associ-
ation, 1966), pp. 10-16, 23-60.
83 Robert Funk, "The Watershed of the American Biblical Tradition: The Chicago School,
First Phase, 1892-1920," Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (March 1976), p. 25.
74 The Bible and the University
Scholars like Case and Mathews "were headed toward open university,
i.e. secular, ground" with their programs. The evangelical lay audience
which had been so central in Harper's consciousness, faded into the
background of the second generation's concerns. This shift, according to
Funk, was not so much an indication of scholarly abandonment of the
popular mind as it was a sign of a shift in the common consciousness.
The lineage that runs from Burton through Mathews, Case,
Foster and Smith into the Wieman school has proved to be a better
index to the common consciousness (than the Harper lineage), in my
opinion, since it strikes me as evident that the biblical basis of faith
was effectively eroded away before the era of the Scopes trial,
precisely in that lay mind Harper and his colleagues were trying so
desperately to reach. 84
More than a tinge of irony is present in Funk's juxtaposition of the defeat of
the Harper dynasty at the Divinity School he founded beside an unnoticed
triumph of the Harper approach across the country in the seminaries of
various denominations. According to Funk's reading of 20th century devel-
opments in American biblical scholarship, philological and historical-critical
concerns prevailed in biblical studies departments of the very seminaries
which Harper had criticized so vocally for their outmoded curricula. 85 But
Harper's attempt to locate biblical studies at the core of his own university
quickly became a minority movement there.
Perhaps the most significant representative of the Chicago School, or the
socio-historical approach to the study of religion, was Shirley Jackson Case,
who during his Chicago tenure (1908—1938) was in turn Professor of New
Testament Literature, Professor of Early Church History and Dean of the
Divinity School. William J. Hynes has found in Case's career ample evi-
dence to support the thesis of a shift in the basic stance of the Divinity
School faculty in the post-Harper era. Dating the life of the "Chicago
School" from 1914—1938, and restricting its identity to the period when the
socio-historical method reigned, Hynes suggested,
there was not only a shift from the philological to the historical within
the biblical field, but also within the macrocosm of the Chicago
School there was a further shift from biblical studies to church history
and historical theology. All of these shifts were represented in the rise
of the socio-historical method. The socio-historical method seemed to
develop initially within the biblical field and then to follow Case into
church history and historical theology. 86
In spite of their differences in scope and definition, when the efforts of
Arnold, Funk and Hynes are considered together they suggest that a
significant shift occurred in the generation of scholars that followed William
84 Funk, p. 6.
85 Harper's criticisms are discussed at length below, pp. 86-96.
86 Hynes, p. 22.
Shaping a New Biblical World 75
Rainey Harper. The text which Harper cherished and labored so strenuously
to reinterpet and advance into prominence lost its pre-eminent place at the
school he had created.
Yet in light of the portrait of Harper advanced in the preceding pages,
the sharp cleavage suggested by these scholars between Harper and his
successors must be questioned. Harper's decision in 1891 to locate his Old
Testament and Semitic Studies Department in the university rather than in
the Divinity School suggests that he had headed for the "open ground" of
the university long before Mathews and Case began their efforts. Recalling
that decision helps explain why Harper's biblical perspective was never
fully entrenched within the Divinity School. The move toward the open
university was consistent with Harper's fundamental mission to make the
Bible a useful public book.
But Harper's move away from the Divinity School may also have
prevented the formation of a school that could perpetuate the type of critical
reverence he had advocated. There can be little disputing the assertion of a
relative diminishment of biblical studies and an accompanying rise of
church history during the post-Harper years at the Divinity School. Yet the
characterization of Harper as a mere philologist is inadequate. His embrace
of data from comparative religion, historical, sociological and psychological
disciplines together with his advocacy on behalf of new disciplines to
improve the seminary curricula of his day point to thin lines of continuity
between Harper's era and that of Case and his colleagues. 87
Thus the "factorial profile" which Hynes has distilled from Case's
publications reveals more continuity with Harper's scholarship than many
students of the Chicago School have seemed aware of. In viewing Case's
work as a whole, Hynes identified nine factors which gave his scholarship its
distinctive character. Case's socio-historical approach was: 1) historical; 2)
scientific-empirical; 3) didactic (meaning that the past should be plundered
for its present utility); 4) social; 5) developmental/evolutionary; 6) vitalistic
(Case was interested in the "persistent vitality which is seen to be 'the real
secret of Christianity's life.' "); 7) functional; 8) genetic; and 9) enhancing
human activism. 88
When Harper's writings on biblical subjects are reviewed in conjunction
with Hynes' profile, it becomes apparent that the difference between Harper
and Chicago School figures like Case is more one of nuance than of
substance. Clearly Harper looked beyond the disciplinary focus of philology
to probe the history which shaped the texts he studied. Like Case he
embraced science and set out in pursuit of "all the facts." Case's evolution-
ary dynamism can be paralleled with similar understandings both in Harp-
87 See below, pp. 93-95.
88 Hynes, pp. 79-84.
76 The Bible and the University
er's reconstruction of biblical history and in his perceptions of his own
As his proposals for institutional reform reveal, Harper's biblical schol-
arship served didactic, functional and activistic purposes. Harper took what
he learned from the Scriptures and tried to reshape modern understand-
ings and institutions on that basis. Where Harper was distinctively different
from those identified as members of the Chicago School was in his text-
centeredness. While Harper did not contend for a "Bible alone" approach to
the intellectual, social and religious problems of his age, he certainly
advocated a "Bible and" stance. One book stood at the core of Harper's
scholarly and administrative concerns. An entire career revolved around the
biblical center which Harper had reappropriated through his scholarhip.
What set him apart from his colleagues and successors at Chicago was the
diversity and number of relationships he forged between the biblical
message, modern scholarship and his society's needs.
When placed within the broad horizon of the field of Old Testament
studies, Harper's ability to weave together a variety of scholarly approaches
with his evangelical heritage becomes more apparent. His openness to new
types of knowledge made it possible for him to anticipate in preliminary
ways several developments which eventually became distinct subspecialties
within an increasingly complex field. Within that field, Herbert F. Hahn has
isolated seven distinct approaches to the Old Testament which have ap-
peared during the past two centuries. The first, the critical approach, was the
new paradigm during the years when Harper reached scholarly maturity.
Wellhausen stands as the representative figure for this strand of biblical
scholarship. Clearly the bulk of Harper's writing was in response to this new
(especially for Americans) way of reading the Scriptures. In the post-
Wellhausen decades, according to Hahn's survey, anthropological, religio-
historical, form-critical, sociological, archaeological and theological approaches
were advanced as supplements or alternatives to the critical approach adopted
by Wellhausen and his successors. 90 A brief overview of the history of those
new developments in Old Testament scholarship makes it possible to see
several points of convergence between these approaches and Harper's own
attempts to re-read the Scriptures in a tradition-free manner.
One finds for example that there are striking similarities between
Harper's efforts to understand the world of the Semitic peoples and the
anthropological approach of his contemporary, William Robertson Smith.
Smith, whom Hahn has identified as the first to apply the anthropological
approach to the Old Testament, studied the ritual institutions of Israel in
order to discern the people's fundamental beliefs. His writings on sacrifice
89 Harper's progressive reading of his own era is discussed below, pp. 141ff.
90 Herbert F. Hahn, The Old Testament in Modern Research (Philadelphia: Fortress
Shaping a New Biblical World 77
traced an evolutionary development which resonated with the position that
Harper worked out in his research. Smith found in his study of the human
behavior that shaped the texts of Israel a "consistent unity of scheme" which
developed throughout Israel's history and beyond it into Judaism and
Christianity. Harper's interpretation of Israel's history shared a developmen-
tal continuity which was much closer to Smith's position than to
Wellhausen's (which viewed Judaism less as an evolutionary outgrowth of
Israel's earlier beliefs than as the triumph of institutional religion over the
free spirit of individuals). 91
In Harper's day, scholars of the religio-historical school were also
turning to ancient near Eastern sources for "influences" on Israel's religion;
this trait can also be glimpsed in Harper's writing. Followers of this school
moved beyond Wellhausen's tendency to isolate Israel's history from exter-
nal influences of surrounding cultures. Their efforts paralleled those Harper
made to relate Hebrew history to that of near Eastern neighbors and other
religions beyond the Fertile Crescent. One of the most illustrious represen-
tatives of this school, for example, was Hermann Gunkel, who advanced a
theory about the relationship of Israel's beliefs to those of neighboring
cultures quite similar to Harper's.
Gunkel pointed out that, although partial imitations and even
direct borrowings did take place, the new context into which the
derivative elements were transplanted quite often infused them with
a different conceptual content and transformed them into vehicles for
distinctive beliefs; as when the creation and deluge stories were
adapted in such a way that the polytheistic elements were eliminated
and a monotheistic emphasis was introduced. 92
While some within the religio-historical school, like Paul Volz, used the
results of comparative study to buttress a non-evolutionary reading of Israel's
history, Harper, like Rudolph Kittel and Ernst Sellin (who were part of a later
generation of scholars), adopted a mediating position that allowed compar-
ative insights to illumine a complicated process of development. 93
Although not a form critic in the sense of a Gunkel or a Sigmund
Mowinckel — in that he did not attempt to break down major literary sections
of the Scriptures into smaller separate literary units — Harper clearly at-
tempted to discern the life situation that provided the context for the texts he
studied. While there may have been a methodological gap between Harper
and the form critical school, nonetheless he anticipated what Hahn called
"the most important development in biblical criticism of the last two
decades." Hahn's evaluation is now almost two decades old so some caution
needs to surround the use made of it. But the significance for subsequent
91 Ibid., pp. 47-53.
92 Ibid., pp. 87-9, 96.
93 Ibid., pp. 97, 103-9.
78 The Bible and the University
scholarhip which Hahn attached to the form critics' "recognition of the
religious motivation of Hebrew historiography" points to a discovery which
Harper would have celebrated and corroborated. 94
Neither was Harper also any sort of sociologist, yet the themes Max
Weber developed when he wrote about Hebrew prophecy could harmonize
with Harper's earlier constructions. Weber, too, had determined that Israel's
prophetic element was absent from other religions. And Harper certainly
had been aware of the determinative collision of nomadic and more urban
ways of life which Weber had claimed was key to understanding the history
of Israel. Other sociologists of religion like Adolphe Lods and Antonin
Causse viewed the prophets either as reactionaries who opposed the
civilized ways of life in the Palestinian cities, or as people who were
introducing new conceptions of religion. 95 Harper's portrait of Elijah as a
fanatic, or his description of Jeremiah as the discoverer of individualism,
show an openness to factors upon which sociologists placed great value.
In the 1940s the distinguished biblical archaeologist William F. Albright
presented an argument quite similar to the one made by Harper at the turn
of the century. Albright and other students of Semitic archaeology reiterated
the comparative distinctiveness of the Old Testament's basic viewpoints.
Unlike Harper, Albright explicitly rejected a developmental explanation for
the Hebrew conception of God, claiming that the teaching of Moses was a
"living tradition . . . which did not change in fundamentals from the time of
Moses until the time of Christ." But Harper's use of archaelogical data
anticipated the later dominant figure in biblical archaelogy, long before the
field boomed in the period between the two World Wars. 96
Although Harper eschewed efforts at premature theological reconstruc-
tion of Old Testament history it is instructive to place his understandings
next to those of later important figures in the field of Old Testament
theology. Unlike Otto Eissfeldt who viewed historical method and theolog-
ical interpretation as working on independent planes (knowledge and
faith), 97 Harper had devoted himself to a blending of faith and knowledge
through his program of critical reverence. Harper was more responsive to the
developmental nature of Israel's belief than was Walter Eichrodt, who tried
to forge a unity of theology and history by tracking one fundamental idea, the
covenant, through the biblical material. 98 But if Harper did not solve the
problem of theology and history by placing the two types of knowledge on
separate planes or by organizing the scriptural message around one funda-
mental theological idea, he nonetheless worked with a typological model
similar to one that would be hailed by Hahn a half century later as a key
94 Ibid., p. 153.
95 Ibid., pp. 164-9.
96 Ibid., p. 218.
97 Ibid., p. 231.
98 Ibid., pp. 232-33.
Shaping a New Biblical World 79
element in a "new theology" from Germany. Hahn described the
Christocentric interpretation of Wilhelm Vischer:
On the surface his method was historical: it began by setting the
texts examined in their original contexts. But mainly his technique
was typological, for the historical meaning of the texts was allegorized
so as to serve as figures for their "eternal" meaning in relation to the
"universal" revelation to which both Testaments testified."
Others advanced Harper-like themes. H.H. Rowley, for example, called
for critics to move beyond scholarship to cultivate a "spiritual receptivity to
the basic message which the Bible conveys." 100 Notice of such resonances
between Harper and elements of the "new theology" of neo-orthodoxy does
not make Harper into a closet neo-orthodox interpreter. Instead he was an
unusual mediator who could blend and reconcile a sense of God's immanent
presence in the world, a progressive view of history, and an evangelical
reverence for the biblical message.
Harper had anticipated what Hahn termed the "new historical definition
of revelation" which neo-orthodoxy was to advance. 101 An understanding of
Harper's typological model of interpretation and his new argument for the
inspiration of Scriptures helps to qualify Hahn's evaluation of H. Wheeler
Robinson's achievement in the 1940s:
H. Wheeler Robinson's exposition of the process of revelation as
the learning of God's will through a series of historical events, the
meaning of which individuals of prophetic insight interpreted to the
people, for the first time provided a successful synthesis of the
historical point of view with theological exposition. Robinson suc-
ceeded in finding theological nexus between historical method and
theological interpretation which Eissfeldt had been unable to per-
Similarities between Harper and later scholars like Vischer and
Robinson, who had moved beyond the liberal paradigm of biblical scholar-
ship which prevailed in Harper's day in their efforts to forge a new
understanding of the relationship of revelation to history, point to his
selective appropriation of the new liberal approach. While he shared with
biblical scholars of his generation a commitment to penetrate biblical texts in
the search for the history behind them, he also held on to fundamental
evangelical beliefs which would receive new articulation in the age of
This preliminary attempt to set Harper within the context of the field of
Old Testament studies reveals significant and previously unnoticed conver-
gence points between Harper and later scholars within his field. Hahn's
99 Ibid., p. 236.
100 Ibid., p. 239.
101 Ibid., p. 241.
102 Ibid., p. 244.
80 The Bible and the University
summary of developments within that field provides a horizon within which
Harper can be placed. Within that context Harper seems to stand in a
synthesizing rather than seminal posture towards the amazing explosion of
biblical studies which began in his generation and continued long after.
Because he died prematurely and because his Divinity School turned in
different directions from those he had chosen, Harper's methodological
cosmopolitanism has been forgotten. Yet when his work as a whole is
assessed, it is clear that Harper incorporated into his distinctive vision many
of the new directions in scholarship which shaped biblical studies for most
of the twentieth century. That he held together what the age of specialization
so quickly put asunder was a sign both of his genius and his datedness. At the
same time that he welcomed the gifts of new knowledge Harper also refused
to leave behind the enduring commitment of evangelical Americans to
provide a coherent biblical framework for their nation's experience. The
arena in which he worked most strenuously to provide coherence was higher
education where a new organization of knowledge was emerging to affect
the entire educational configuration of the nation.
THE CRITICAL REFORMATION
Less than one year before the end of his life, Harper responded to a
letter from a Nevada, Missouri, clergyman, the Reverend G.D. Edwards who
inquired if Harper's "missionary zeal" had diminished under the impact of
the "New Theology." Harper's answer indicated that the opposite of his
interrogator's expectations had happened. "You will readily understand, of
course, that all my work is in a very fundamental sense missionary work."
His answer also revealed the common thread which wove together all his
activities. He claimed that exposure to new types of biblical scholarship,
which troubled many in his era, had, in fact, "greatly increased my sense of
the value of Christianity for all men." Harper's mission, which he expressed
in his various enterprises of scholarship, popular education, publication and
university administration, was to spread his biblical message as widely as
With reinterpreted Bible in hand, Harper zealously set out on his
career-long mission to reform the educational agencies of church and nation.
Each of America's central educational institutions — Sunday school, public
school, college, seminary, family and ministry — were recipients of scrutiny
and calls for reform. As his "Bible study movement" developed, Harper
boldly attempted to reshape the entire national configuration of education,
and through it, the American people.
The Bible Study Movement
In the first issue of the first journal he published, Harper, then a
newcomer to the seminary in Morgan Park, asked if someone would write an
article entitled "A Revival of Hebrew Study." According to the fledgling
editor, an article, much study and a revival were all needed. He wondered
why "pastors so universally detest Hebrew" but found encouraging "indi-
cations of change" in the fact that "four hundred ministers from thirty-five
states, and of thirteen denominations have within a year felt constrained to
1 William Rainey Harper to Rev. G.D. Edwards, February 11, 1905, Personal Papers, Box
7, Folder 19.
82 The Bible and the University
take up a study so long neglected." 2 In fact the revival he called for had
already begun, largely the result of his own early extracurricular efforts at
making the study of Hebrew available beyond the walls of his seminary
through correspondence study. The young editor was also a promoter who
regularly called attention to aspects of the revival he wished to encourage, by
providing readers with a vast array of statistical indicators which pointed to
growth and progress.
Three years later, in September of 1885, Harper was certain that
we have begun, but also only begun, a movement of immense
proportions and one which is bound to be accompanied with signif-
icant and far reaching consequences.
By that time he had scoured the nation, locating 157 professors of Hebrew.
Laboring systematically to build a network among his colleagues, Harper
reported their publications, research efforts, and position changes on the
pages of the Student. 3
The study of the Hebrew Scriptures was the heart of the movement even
if it would not always be its sole focus. Hebrew summer schools were an
"instrument under God" for "bringing the Old Testament to the front in this
country." 4 For those unable to commute to Harper's summer school, corre-
spondence courses and "Semitics Clubs" provided access to Hebrew.
Within Harper's program seminars no longer remained the private preserve
of German-trained specialists at distant universities. Hebrew Clubs, which
gathered to do linguistic study wherever a handful of interested students
subscribed to Harper's publications, became American counterparts to the
German model of higher learning.
In March of 1887 Harper, then a Yale professor, claimed that the nation
was on the "eve" of a "revival of interest in the study of the Bible." 5 By this
time his vision extended beyond the "Hebrew movement" to include a
larger group of people who wished to study the Scriptures without the aid of
Hebrew. Contacts with popular audiences at Chautauqua and Yale had
expanded his public dramatically. But Harper did not abandon his earlier
more specialized enterprises; instead he simply built on to his movement
with additional programs.
Harper celebrated biblical interest wherever he discovered it. Although
he and Dwight L. Moody did not share similar approaches to the Scriptures,
Harper occasionally reported Moody's successes with approval. 6 Noting that
lay people also predominated in his own Bible movement, Harper criticized
2 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Hebrew Student 1 (April 1882): 11.
3 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 5 (September
1885):37; "Editorial," ibid. 5 (December 1885): 183.
4 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 6 (September 1886):4.
5 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 6 (March 1887): 193.
6 William Rainey Harper, "Work and Workers," The Biblical World 11 (March 1898):211.
The Critical Reformation 83
pastors for their lack of ability and interest in biblical study. 7 As the number
of parishoners interested in the Bible study movement increased while their
clergy stubbornly failed to respond, Harper boasted of his success and
attempted an end run around the ministers. Thus, the December 1893
Biblical World editorialized:
With all due modesty, it may be claimed that The Student in
former years, The Biblical World of today, has led thousands and
thousands of men and women to a larger and better comprehension of
sacred truth, has inspired many persons to work and strive for higher
things, and has aided many a troubled soul which found itself in the
midst of doubt and difficulty. 8
Editorials alternated between celebration of movement gains and criti-
cism of whatever obstacles impeded its advance. Harper was convinced that
the Bible had never been more powerful in its influence than during those
years when so many people were coming to terms with new ways of reading
it. Biblical criticism was responsible for the new interest — all of it under
God's "immediate supervision." 9
The touch of history had "revivified" the Bible to such an extent that by
1901 the Bible study movement had become international in scope. Ger-
many, France and England had come to share in the common spirit which
fueled the "great popular movement in the churches" of America. The
revival, supported by a belief in the "supremacy of the historical method,"
was participating in what Harper and his colleagues trusted was a "new
revelation of God." 10
In 1899 Harper could count 5,000 readers of The Biblical World — and
those were more than mere subscribers. To Harper they were almost a
family held together by a "bond" which was "deeper and higher than a
common theological position." The desire to know the Scriptures made one
movement out of many readers whose common goal was to "enthrone the
Bible." That supreme purpose unified the journal's readers no matter how
many theological differences existed among them. 11 Regular contributions
by Jewish biblical scholars, for example, which began with the first issue of
The Hebrew Student, indicated the inclusiveness of Harper's movement. 12
To accomplish the enthronement of the Scriptures in America Harper
made his popular journal meet diverse needs. In 1887 the Inductive Bible
Studies Series appeared in The Old Testament Student, offering a monthly
7 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 6 (September 1895): 162.
8 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 2 (December 1893):402.
9 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 12 (April
10 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 18 (September 1901):l64-65.
11 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial Letter," ibid. 14 (September 1899): 147-^8.
12 See for example Rabbi I. Stern "Beams From the Talmud," The Hebrew Student 1
(April 1882): 14.
84 The Bible and the University
program which sought to lead readers to the promised land of biblical
knowledge by following a route of carefully crafted questions. Through the
studies Harper ambitiously sought to develop both detailed knowledge of
biblical history and comprehensive understanding of the Scriptures' funda-
mental ideas. 13 In addition to these study guides bibliographies were
prepared to help more ambitious readers find needed books. For clergy
there was a special series on expository preaching by W.H.P. Faunce, D.D. 14
Willis Beecher and Herbert Lockwood Willett each contributed series of
Sunday school lesson materials to assist the teachers and pupils who were
another important and distinct audience. 15
As the Bible study movement's activities and participants increased,
Harper created new institutions to respond to growing needs. The American
Institute of Hebrew, for example, was formed in 1882 to serve as the
umbrella organization for Harper's extra-seminary activities. In the princi-
pal's report for the year 1886 Harper gave a detailed breakdown of this initial
effort to shape the study of Hebrew in America. With his penchant for
statistics he pointed to 683 students in the Institute's Correspondence
School. Thirty-two denominations were represented in a student population
that included representatives from 48 states or provinces of North America
and 11 foreign countries. Harper reported that the average age of enrolled
males was 33 and called attention to the fact that eighteen females had joined
the mostly male movement. Ninety-eight of that year's enrollees were not in
In addition to its sizeable correspondence program, the Institute spon-
sored summer schools at Philadelphia, Morgan Park, Newton Centre,
Chautauqua and the University of Virginia. During 1886, 37 different
instructors from around the nation shared teaching duties at these schools
where 205 students experienced more intense programs of instruction.
The volume of paperwork for the Institute's total program was stagger-
ing and Harper seemed to relish calling attention to it. In 1888, for example,
12,620 sheets of printed letter-head stationary, 366,023 pages of circulars,
8,356 dictated letters and 1,328 written letters were issued. With a good deal
of understatement Harper admitted that it took a "large amount of pushing"
to make the movement go. He logged his own labors: 425 hours of classroom
work in the five summer schools; 6,700 miles of travel; 600 hours of office
work; every one of the 8,356 dictated letters. The demands of the program
required the help of 6 assistants to keep the paper flowing. Loans of $1,650
13 William Rainey Harper, W.G. Ballantine, Willis J. Beecher and G.S. Burroughs,
"Inductive Bible Studies," The Old Testament Student 7 (September 1887):21ff.
14 W.H.P. Faunce, "Expository Preaching, I," The Biblical World 11 (February 1898):81ff.
15 W. J. Beecher, "Sunday School Lessons for the Third Quarter, 1885," The Old
Testament Student 4 (June 1885): 445ff; Herbert L. Willett, "The International Sunday
School Lessons," The Biblical World 14 (July 1899):58ff.
The Critical Reformation 85
to cover operating costs during that year signalled that the Institute's success
created needs which threatened to exhaust the resources that Harper had
managed to assemble. 16
Nonetheless, the movement continued to expand. By 1888 Harper could
boast of a Japanese chapter of the American Institute of Hebrew. 17 Still, he
refused to let matters coast. An 1889 appraisal of the needs of his Bible
students prompted an editorial question: "Why not have an American
Institute of Sacred Literature?" Despite many impressive strides, he felt that
biblical work was still "at loose ends." It needed "stirring up, systematizing,
elevating." 18 By 1893 the revamped Institute, which had moved to a new
home on the south side of Chicago, had grown even larger. The Correspon-
dence School had expanded from its original one course of Hebrew instruc-
tion to a total curriculum of twelve courses, only four of which were Hebrew.
At that time 448 students pursued Hebrew, while three delved into Arabic,
158 studied New Testament Greek, and 450 read the English Bible. More
than 1,100 students were organized into 92 correspondence clubs. The total
number of students participating in some form of correspondence work was
2,891. They mailed in their lessons from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales,
Norway, Italy, Turkey, Syria, India, Assam, Burma, China, Korea, Japan,
Australia, West and South Africa, Brazil, Bermuda, West Indies, Mexico and
By 1899 the American Institute of Sacred Literature had 10,000 students
involved in some phase of its program, including 4,500 in a new Outline
Course designed to help those who could not devote large amounts of time
to Bible study. 20 Harper's institutional creativity continued to express itself
in constant innovation. The Institute's original structure of four departments
(Correspondence School, Summer School, Special Courses and Examina-
tions) was augmented by the addition of Local Boards to foster growth across
the nation. Willett, one of Harper's proteges, became the field secretary
responsible for developing local programs of Bible study. 21 Under Willett's
leadership Bible Study Unions began to meet in large cities, chapters of the
Institute took shape in congregations and a network of state secretaries
brought order to the nationwide program. In addition, ministers belonged to
their own Guild for Professional Reading, which boasted 248 members in
16 William Rainey Harper, "Report of the Principal of Schools of the American Institute of
Hebrew," The Old Testament Student 6 (February 1887): 178-87.
17 William Rainey Harper, "Report of the Principal of Schools of the American Institute of
Hebrew (1888)," ibid. 8 (February 1889):225.
18 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 8 (April 1889):282-83.
19 C. Eugene Crandall, "The American Institute of Sacred Literature," The Biblical World
1 (January 1893): 36-37.
20 William Rainey Harper, "The Council of Seventy," ibid. 13 (January 1899):47-48.
21 William Rainey Harper, "The American Institute of Sacred Literature," ibid. 4 (October
86 The Bible and the University
1899. 22 A Bible Students Reading Guild was added to foster a thirty-minute-
per-day program for novices who lacked time to do sustained work. 23
When the October, 1902 issue of The Biblical World featured a promi-
nent advertisement for "The Largest Bible School in The World," it was
promoting a complex institution consisting of 10,000 students annually
registered, an administrative council of seventy leading biblical scholars, a
program of "Advanced Courses for Ministers, Teachers, Colleges and
Schools," as well as "Elementary Courses for Laymen, working indepen-
dendy or in groups, in the Church, Sunday School, Young People's Society,
etc." 24 The wide appeal of the Institute's programs can be seen in the rapid
growth of the Outline Course program. Within its first six years more than
60,000 students had made use of the new Outline Courses. 25 Harper's
program had come a long way from the solitary extra-curricular Hebrew
course offered in Denison, Ohio.
Harper's frequently stated perception of an emerging revival of biblical
study clearly had data to support it. The career of the Institute under his
leadership was one of expansion and growth, even if financial troubles were
always threatening. Never satisfied, Harper frequently tinkered with the
movement's organization, always seeking to make it more efficient and more
inclusive. When his efforts at fueling the Bible study movement are placed
next to his responsibilities at Chautauqua the amazing scope of his moon-
lighting efforts becomes apparent. Through these two major efforts at
popular education Harper had identified a significant public with a strong
interest in his type of biblical study. Both his Institute and Chautauqua
aimed at popular learning; both developed a variety of programs to reach
into the homes and villages of Bible-reading America. Both responded to the
energetic leadership of Principal Harper.
As Harper became the leader of a more visible and organized movement
he called for more specific types of reform. In 1900, for example, an
"Editorial Letter" urged "Bible Study Sundays" in congregations to awaken
interest at the local level. 26 But more than that, Harper began to target
individual educational institutions for precise changes.
Harper made his initial reforming foray into America's educational
environment by calling for changes in the world of the seminary. Morgan
22 Harper, "The Council of Seventy," ibid. 13 (March 1899):209.
23 Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 3 (June 1894):403-4.
24 "Advertisement," ibid. 20 (October 1902):ii.
25 William Rainey Harper, "The American Institute of Sacred Literature: Announcements
for the Year 1904-5," ibid. 24 (September 1904):228.
26 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial Letter," ibid. 15 (May 1900):323.
The Critical Reformation 87
Park Seminary was the place where he first sensed that perhaps he could
reshape aspects of American education. On the basis of what he observed
there and heard elsewhere about America's seminaries, he concluded that
this peculiar institution was most responsible for American Protestantism's
misinterpretation of the Scriptures. To counter this situation he offered a first
reform proposal which when compared to his later ones seems tame enough.
Old Testament departments needed two professors rather than the conven-
tional solitary generalist. One professor should specialize in linguistic
subjects, the other in exegetical or interpretive matters. Implicit in the
proposal was Harper's inductive model. Only after careful analysis of
linguistic facts could students begin the interpretive work of Old Testament
theology. To facilitate full inductive study of the Scriptures Harper also
urged the introduction of a whole new range of subjects into the field of Old
Testament Studies. A student should begin with Hebrew, then move on to
the cognate languages like Aramaic, Syriac, Assyrian and Arabic. Next, the
history of the biblical material should be carefully investigated. Finally each
particular section of Scripture had to be viewed as a piece of literature and
compared with other similar types of literature. When the student was
equipped with all those pre-requisite skills, then the task of interpretation
could properly begin. 27
From these initial concerns with the internal affairs of his academic
specialty Harper then brashly struck at the heart of theological education by
asserting that seminaries lacked "only one thing": the opportunity for
potential preachers to study the Word. He sarcastically prophesied that the
day was coming when seminary graduates "must know something of the
Bible." From his vantage point real biblical knowledge had been crowded
out of the seminary curriculum. 28
According to Harper seminaries had a "duty" to perform. They were
supposed to nurture "a renewed heart," or if one was not extant in the
bosoms of young seminarians, the schools must help create it. But more than
that each seminary was required to provide true, clear, full knowledge of
biblical history, literature, and thought to its students. The institutions were
"under obligation to require this knowledge . . . before graduation." Unfor-
tunately the seminaries had fallen short of their duty. Instead of teaching
students the fundamental knowledge required for ministry, Harper believed
the institutions taught prospective pastors to "ignore the Bible." To address
that fundamental failure the larger problem of the nature of theological
education needed to be addressed. A true reformer, Harper exhorted
27 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial Notes," The Old Testament Student 4 (November
28 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 1 (February 1893):87; "Edito-
rial," The Old Testament Student 6 (February 1887): 162.
88 The Bible and the University
seminary educators to return their schools to study of "the fountain-head"
and begin their educational efforts there. 29
To understand the significance of Harper's challenge to the seminaries
of his day it is necessary to place his attempt within the larger context of the
history of these important institutions of theological education. Like so much
of the history of religious education in America, the history of the seminary
remains largely unwritten. In "Notes Toward a History: Theological Ency-
clopedia and the Evolution of American Seminary Curriculum, 1808—1968,"
however, Robert W. Lynn has made a pioneering contribution to this
neglected field. 30 Lynn's research reveals that prior to the nineteenth
century prospective ministers prepared for their callings by "reading divin-
ity" under the tutelage of a respected clergyman. The Reverend Nathaniel
Emmons, for example, minister of the Congregational Church in Franklin,
Massachusetts, guided more than 80 students through a suggested list of
books during a 50-year period. Sometime during his working day Reverend
Emmons stopped to meet with students to "hear their compositions or to
converse with them upon particular subjects." Lyman Beecher, author of A
Plea for the West and later president of Lane Seminary recalled a similar
manner of preparation for his calling. Once a week he and fellow aspirants to
the holy calling met with President D wight of Yale College. The group read
papers, discussed questions and listened to lectures. 31
According to Lynn, this divinity-reading model prevailed in America
until the creation of Andover Seminary in 1808 under Congregational
auspices. Previously ministers had given attention to a loosely structured
reading program that concentrated on certain key emphases — exegesis,
sacred rhetoric, and "the" theological system. Andover, "America's first
graduate school," changed this pattern. 32 After several years of trial and
error, the seminary's founders developed a specific curriculum for ministe-
rial preparation. The first year was devoted to Sacred Literature, the second
to Christian Theology, and the third to Sacred Rhetoric and Ecclesiastical
Andover began with an endowment of $75,000 from three donors, which
grew during their lifetimes to $300,000 — an amount twice that of Harvard's
29 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial Notes: The Duty of the Theological Seminary in
Reference to Bible-Study," ibid. 5 (January 1886):234-35; "Editorial," The Biblical World
6 (September 1895): 166; "Editorial," The Old and New Testament Student 10 (January
30 Robert W. Lynn, "Notes Toward a History: Theological Encyclopedia and the Evolu-
tion of American Seminary Curriculum, 1808-1968," unpublished essay, The Lilly En-
dowment, Indianapolis, Indiana, June 1979.
31 Ibid., pp. 7-9.
32 Norman J. Kansfield suggests that the Associate Reformed Church Seminary in
Pennsylvania headed by John Mitchell Mason is older than Andover. See "Study the Most
Approved Authors: The Role of the Seminary Library in Nineteenth-Century American
Protestant Ministerial Education," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1981), p. 48.
The Critical Reformation 89
total endowment at that time. Such unprecedented resources allowed the
school to experiment with specialization — Professors Leonard Woods,
Moses Stuart, and Ebenezer Porter divided the "theological encyclopedia"
among themselves, sharing what previously had been haphazardly covered
by one busy cleric. By 1830 the "four-fold theological curriculum" (sacred
literature, Christian theology, ecclesiastical history, and sacred rhetoric) had
emerged; increasingly, it came to dominate American theological education
until the 1880s. 33
The half century from the 1830s to the 1880s Lynn characterizes as a
period of "The Development of a Transatlantic Persuasion." During this
period many Americans participated in a transatlantic migration to and from
German universities. Students returned home with new visions for theolog-
ical education, including the central notion of "theological encyclopedia," a
scientific schema for the study of theology which divided theological inquiry
into four separate departments: exegesis, Dogmatik, ecclesiastical history,
and Homiletik or practical theology. Theological encyclopedia was the
framework within which seminal figures like Friedrich August Gottreau
Tholuck, Johann August Wilhelm Neander and Ernest Wilhelm Hengsten-
berg made distinct disciplines out of different areas of theological study.
Under their leadership each discipline developed its own objectives, bibli-
ographies, and methods of study. That which an exceptional seminary like
Andover had groped toward, Americans encountered in breathtaking com-
pleteness in the seminars and libraries of German universities. Eventually,
the theological encyclopedia of Germany, i.e., the modern structure of
theological learning, was imported and tranplanted to institutions across the
United States. 34
It was at the end of this period of enthusiasm for German models of
learning that Harper entered the plot of theological education in America.
Unlike many who attempted to restructure the seminaries of America he did
not study abroad and therefore did not harbor commitments to the German
paradigm as deep as those of his predecessors. Further, the German organ-
ization of knowledge had moved beyond the earlier coherence supplied by
classical paradigms and Neuhumanismus to an increasingly specialized
style. 35 Barriers between disciplines had become increasingly insurmount-
able as overarching unity became less plausible. New disciplines like
sociology and psychology challenged the coherence which once made the
33 Lynn, "Notes Toward a History," pp. 5, 11-12, 18.
34 Ibid., pp. 14—20. Edward Farley provides a thorough analysis of the development of
"theological encyclopedia" from its eighteenth century pre-Schleiermacher origins,
through its seminal formulation in Friedrich Schleiermacher's Brief Outline of Theological
Study, to its dissolution in the "fragmentation" of twentieth century seminary curricular
confusion in Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Phila-
delphia: Fortress Press, 1983).
35 See Chapter 2, p. 33.
90 The Bible and the University
fourfold curriculum a comprehensive system of knowledge. As scholars
achieved competence in expanding numbers of fields, the neat fourfold
curriculum began to fragment and new fields of study resisted assimilation
under the old paradigm.
At first Harper seemed unconcerned about the larger context which
posed new problems for America's theological educators. His interest was in
the emerging Semitic discipline and its place within a curriculum that
threatened to squeeze out what was most important, i.e. his own specialty.
He conducted a symposium on Bible study in American seminaries through
the pages of the Old Testament Student and concluded that "the Bible does
not occupy the place in the theological curriculum which it deserves." To
return the Scriptures to their rightful place he offered a series of far-reaching
suggestions. More time had to be given to the study of the Bible — at least
one-half of a student's program of study. Knowledge of Hebrew was
mandatory — but it should be acquired in pre-seminary days so that seminary
work could get on with biblical study. Harper's proposed seminary reform
thus had implications for college curricula also. The "habit of Bible study"
had to be formed in seminary students. Notions of academic vacation time
had to be reconceived, as cherished ideas of summer time off had to yield to
the constant work of scholarship. Biblical history needed to become a
required subject; how else would the critical perspective so essential to
Harper's reforms be grasped? Finally, the Bible must be studied in English
so that students would be at home in the book and truly understand it. To
that end Harper called for a new department to be added to the unravelling
fourfold curriculum — the department of English Bible study. 36
Problems with the seminary curriculum were so pervasive that Harper
eventually moved beyond editorializing for his own cause to a more
thorough reappraisal of theological education in general. In 1899, from the
vantage point of a university president who led an institution through the
transition from seminary to Divinity School, Harper authored a penetrating
and critical analysis of theological education entitled "Shall the Theological
Curriculum Be Modified, And How?" His answer to his own question
revealed that the experience of constructing a complete edifice of learning
had widened his horizons to include concerns barely discernible in previous
calls for reform. 37
Harper began his final proposal for reconstructing theological education
by noting the perceptions of modern churchgoers. He believed that
Many intelligent laymen in the churches have the feeling that the
training provided for the students in the theological seminary does
not meet the requirements of modern times.
36 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 5 (April 1886):321ff.
37 William Rainey Harper, "Shall the Theological Curriculum Be Modified, And How?"
The Trend in Higher Education in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1905),
The Critical Reformation 91
In addition, he claimed that ministers who had completed their training
looked back upon the seminary experience with similar disapproval. So
widespread was disenchantment with the seminary that Harper heard
students preparing for ministry asking, "Is there not some way of making
preparation other than through the seminary?" Some went so far as to pursue
alternative routes in graduate schools or "short-course" plans. The basic
problem was that the seminary curriculum and organizational structures
were "survivals from the oldest times." They were simply "out of harmony
with the whole situation as it exists today." 38
Two basic principles lay beneath the specific suggestions Harper
wished to make. First, any modifications in the theological curriculum
"should accord with the assured results of modern psychology and peda-
gogy" as well as the demands made by "common experience." Second,
seminary work had to be adjusted "to render it attractive to the best men." In
another essay Harper asked, "Why Are There Fewer Students For the
Ministry?" Citing a 15 percent decline in enrollments at northern Protestant
seminaries — from 2,522 in 1894 to 2,133 a decade later — he answered this
question by pointing to the rise in prominence of other professions and the
decline in "general influence of the minister." No longer did ministers tower
in stature above the rest of the community. Other factors such as a "gradual
decay of religious expression" in modern times and the "theological uncer-
tainty" of the era complicated the ministerial situation. It was quite clearly a
"time of transition" for Christianity. Small salaries furthered the ministry's
slide down the status ladder. Harper dared to prescribe an immediate
solution for the money problem: "If the present salaries could be doubled
within ten years, the influence of the average minister would be doubled." 39
But if America's widening embrace of modernity had done great damage
to the status of the ministerial profession, the seminaries had made matters
worse. Harper was appalled by the "promiscuous admission of ignorant
candidates" to the schools and subsequently to the profession. While other
professions were raising their standards, this one, he felt, was lowering its
With the grim seminary reality before him and his two key principles in
hand, Harper posed specific alternatives to the conventional model of
theological education. Rather than push all students into a prescribed mold,
the curriculum had to be "adapted to the individual taste and capacity of the
student." Only one essential core was required of all students: "a general
and comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures." Beyond that limit choice
should prevail. A new conception of the seminary's function was offered; it
38 Ibid., pp. 234-35.
39 Ibid., p 236; "Why are There Fewer Students For the Ministry?" ibid., pp. 195-202.
40 Ibid., p 203.
92 The Bible and the University
was "not a place in which men are to learn certain views, or to receive and
adopt certain opinions." Instead it had to become "a place in which men
shall be taught to think." 41
A key verb in Harper's reforming lexicon was "adapt": seminaries
needed to help individuals adapt to their environments. To accomplish that
goal, the institutions needed to become aware of the "present state of
society." Still much more like a medieval monastery than a modern profes-
sional school, the seminary had to come to terms with the "modern demo-
cratic situation." Convinced on the basis of his critical and progressive
reading of the Scriptures that "Christianity is democratic through and
through," Harper felt that problems had occurred when religious leaders
moved from the pure world of Christian ideals to the real one of institutions
and history. In the real world of history the church had to a large extent
"antagonized the democratic spirit." In addition to the pressing demand to
adapt to modern democratic society Harper also asked the seminaries to
come to terms with the "greatest factor in modern civilization," science.
Furthermore, the new economic realities in which these schools functioned
meant that seminaries also had to learn how to deal with another modern
phenomenon, "men of wealth." 42
After sketching the major contours of the changed environment for
theological education, Harper proceeded to offer close-up analysis of aca-
demic programs. Certainly one of the most distinctive and cherished tasks of
the ministry in his era was preaching; but Harper was not afraid to aim sharp
criticisms at the way seminaries were preoccupied by this one element out
of the many needed to adequately equip would-be ministers. Popular
expectations and financial motives compelled students to "preach con-
stantly" during their early years — assuring both an undue emphasis on this
one function and the development of poor habits of preparation. If seminar-
ians were diligently preparing lessons during the week, they could not be in
"fit condition to preach regularly on the Sabbath." Negative learning re-
sulted from such a system, since students acquired the "habit of slovenli-
ness" in sermon preparation and classroom work. Harper was unsparing in
his condemnation of this tradition, calling preaching in early years of
seminary training an "evil." Instead of encouraging or requiring student
preaching, he felt that seminaries "should forbid it." 43
The practice of providing free tuition and board for seminarians, a
"survival of mediaevalism," was also singled out for criticism. Harper argued
that such coddling degraded students and fostered attitudes of dependence
that could color an entire ministry. For pastors to function effectively in
41 Harper, "Shall the Theological Curriculum be Modified, And How?" pp. 237—38.
42 Ibid., pp. 238-41.
Ibid., pp. 243-44.
The Critical Reformation 93
democratic America, they had to cultivate a habit of independence from their
earliest seminary days. 44
The scientist in Harper deplored the "lack of sufficient amount of
laboratory work in science" in the ordinary course of pre-ministerial study.
Scientific knowledge was as necessary for the modern cleric as a knowledge
of Greek. To contend with "the greatest enemy Christianity is called to
contend with," materialism, Harper believed that students needed to know
how scientists thought and worked. His proposed solution was advocacy of
established chairs of science like the one occupied by Henry Drummond
who probed the relationships between theology and geology at Free Church
College of Glasgow, Scotland. 45
Harper balanced his call for including science in the theological curricu-
lum by placing strong emphasis on the need for the study of English litera-
ture. In his estimation mastery of this field of knowledge was "second in
importance only to the mastery of the sacred Scriptures." In the classics
readers could encounter "common feelings of the soul of humanity," primary
material for ministerial reflections. Harper doubted if he would be "going too
far to assert that every minister should be a specialist in English literature." 46
Ignorance of English literature seemed to accompany a general weak-
ness in the ability of seminary students to express themselves properly in
"strong and forcible English." Harper called for regular "theme work," if
necessary at the expense of technical theological work, in order that students
might learn to communicate clearly. The fourfold curriculum received one
more jolt as Harper advocated yet another "special chair" for "every
well-organized theological seminary" — one in English language. 47
The wide-ranging curricular suggestions that Harper proposed at the
turn of the century reflected a much broader concern than the main interest
which dominated his earlier days: encouraging Hebrew and biblical study
by seminary students. But he had certainly not abandoned his original
purpose; for along with all his other suggested innovations came the familiar
request for a department of English Bible. To explain why this reform was
needed "most of all," Harper reiterated the main concern of his Hebrew and
Bible study movements:
The theological seminaries are sending men into the ministry
who have no proper knowledge of the growth and development of
Biblical thought, and who even lack familiarity with the most com-
mon material of the Biblical books .... Of the great movements of
national life, of the contemporaneous history of the social develop-
ment, of the gradual growth of religious thought, he [the seminary
graduate] remains largely ignorant.
44 Ibid., pp. 244-45.
45 Ibid., pp. 245-46.
46 Ibid., p. 250.
47 Ibid., pp. 250^51.
94 The Bible and the University
So acute was the need for students to know the plot and thought of the
Sacred Scriptures that Harper found it necessary to modify his stance on the
subject closest to his heart, Hebrew. His earlier calls for mandatory Hebrew
had been so successful that the study had become compulsory in many
schools by 1899. According to Harper's calculations one-fifth of the average
seminarian's time was spent in pursuit of Harper's specialty. Lest his
Hebrew movement end in a pyrrhic victory Harper felt constrained to urge
making "Hebrew an elective." Ironically, the zealous Semitics teacher who
in the 1880s watched students come alive as they studied Hebrew admitted
at the turn of the century that "the requirement of Hebrew has worked
incalculable injury to the morale of many students.'' Harper surveyed the
results of his movement and judged them: "No greater farce may be found in
any field of educational work than that which is involved in the teaching and
study of the Hebrew language in many theological seminaries." The subject
must be made "voluntary." 48 Experiences at Yale, Chautauqua and the
University of Chicago had taught him lessons which made him view his
initial reform as inadequate for the more pervasive set of problems and the
larger public which could not be addressed through the advancement of one
After sealing the fate of the fourfold curriculum and reforming his own
reformation, Harper moved to another group of proposals which he gathered
under the heading of "specialism." The present curriculum required the
same work of every student and turned out a uniform product. Some day,
Harper felt, "the churches will . . . learn that one man, whatever may be his
ability, cannot meet all the demands of modern times." It was "practical
suicide" to pursue singlemindedly the old model of the pulpit-centered
ministry. The new environment of modernity called for people specially
prepared for particular aspects of ministry. Training for a career as a medical
missionary would take on a different form than preparation of someone
entering the new field of church administration, or that of the person
developing gifts in church music. Harper looked ahead and predicted:
"Twenty years from now young men will announce from the beginning their
purpose to prepare themselves for college and university presidencies and
for the secretaryships of our great missionary societies, and will undertake
long years of training especially adapted for such work." 49
Specialism within the field of ministry paralleled specialism within the
academic world of theological education. Linguistics, history, sociology,
philosophy, pedagogy, rhetoric and literature were parts of a theological
world too broad for any one individual to master. The existing theological
curriculum encouraged dilettantish dabbling in several fields and mastery of
none. Such "superficiality" had to give way to "the student habit" by which
48 Ibid., pp 247-49.
49 Ibid., pp. 251^5.
The Critical Reformation 95
individuals pursued a "single problem" from one field of inquiry to the next.
Problem-centered education that dealt with "fundamental subjects" through
personal investigation was the new goal. 50
Old ways of teaching, primarily the lecture, were inadequate for the new
types of learning. The seminar, comparative study and "theological clinics"
that specialized in various aspects of practical church life were needed.
Harper anticipated the program of modern seminary education normally
called "field work" when he suggested that at least three months of a
student's time be spent working in a church under the direction of a pastor.
In order for a student to accomplish all this, Harper uncharacteristically
recommended that the curriculum be expanded from three to four years.
First-year work was to be "prescribed": work in Old and New Testament
history, literature and theology, a survey of ecclesiastical history and an
outline of what would be covered in the field of systematic theology. In
addition a series of weekly lectures in sociology should be offered. At the
end of the first year, a student would select a specialty from the various fields
of study. Individuals sharing a common field of inquiry would form a group
around their interest and be under the guidance of an advisor. Out of the
minimum six departments in Harper's theological Gestalt — Old Testament,
New Testament, church history, systematic theology, sociology and homi-
letics — each student would pick another department in which to do second-
ary work. 51
Having completed his theoretical revamping of the internal components
of seminary education, Harper turned his attention to its external circum-
stances. Seminaries should no longer hide in "out-of-the-way" forests or
hamlets. They should move to the city, preferably next to a university where
students, like Israel of old, could "intermigrate" between points of view and
fields of knowledge. Harper's ideal, which he began to develop at the
University of Chicago, was the cluster of seminaries around a university.
Students were encouraged to journey through them, adapting, absorbing,
purifying. A part of his grand vision was that eventually seminaries would
themselves specialize, agreeing to concentrate on certain fields rather than
foolishly attempting to cover all areas of knowledge. 52
Theological education was destined for one last reform and Harper
saved it for the last line of his essay on seminary curricula. The scope of the
seminary enterprise was too narrow. If necessary the schools could be
50 Ibid., pp. 256^59.
51 Ibid., pp. 258-64. It should not be assumed that Harper was the only successful
seminary reformer. Chester David Hartranft instituted a number of important changes at
Hartford Seminary in Connecticut during the same years that Harper advocated his
reforms. There are similarities between Harper's and Hartranft's reforms, most notably in
concern for scientific study and practical education. See Kansfield, "Study the Most
Approved Authors," pp. 82—96, for a description of Hartranft's efforts.
52 Harper, "Shall the Theological Curriculum be Modified, And How?" p. 266.
96 The Bible and the University
renamed in order to communicate that "instruction for Christian workers of
all classes" would be given. With that suggestion Harper revealed that at root
he was reforming the seminary to serve a redefined conception of ministry.
Earlier in his essay he had reduced his argument to a single proposition,
which showed the relationship between specialization and comprehensive-
ness. "The day has come for a broadening of the meaning of the word
minister, and for the cultivation of specialism in the ministry, as well as in
medicine, in law and in teaching." What he intended to create was a
diversified ministry, grounded in a common core, the properly interpreted
Scriptures. He united the many emerging specialties around one center, the
"God-given word." 53
In his "Notes" Robert Lynn sees in Harper's reform a "prefiguring" of
many twentieth-century developments in theological education. After
Harper, theological education moved away from the encumbered traditional
fourfold curriculum and toward a new, twofold one that divided theological
work into a two-part encyclopedia of theory and practice. 54 As the twentieth
century progressed students increasingly became seminar specialists and
clinical experimenters. That Harper fore-shadowed this change is clear. Yet
his main goal was not merely to balance theoretical work by introducing
practical dimensions. As always his fundamental concern was to introduce a
properly understood Bible into the daily lives of modern Americans. To do
that Harper wanted to reshape theoretical education in the seminary, and he
called for new forms of practical education to further that larger aim. Both
theoretical and practical work had to be shaped by the single most needed
reform: restoring the Scriptures to their central place in American life. That
overarching goal impelled him beyond the confines of the seminary with
results that affected most of the major forms of education of his era.
The Sunday School
One of the primary areas of Harper's concern was the Sunday school.
Deeply troubled by the quality of Sunday school education, Harper staged a
"revolt" against the predominant methods of Sunday school instruction and
cheered as he watched it become a "revolution." 55 To people at the opposite
end of the twentieth century Harper's revolt against the Sunday school can
sound quite tame. With the exception of certain fundamentalist groups and
Southern evangelicals, most denominations have watched the Sunday
school slide into desuetude. For most contemporary observers the Sunday
school evokes images of harmlessness and irrelevance.
53 Ibid., pp. 267, 256.
54 Lynn, "Notes Toward a History," p. 28.
55 William Rainey Harper, "Popular Bible Study: Its Significance and Its Lessons," ibid.
18 (September 1901): 163.
The Critical Reformation 97
Yet during Harper's years the opposite was the case. The Sunday school
was at the zenith of its influence, reaping results of more than a century of
growth in America. Robert W. Lynn and Elliot Wright have told the story of
this often overlooked institution in their narrative history, The Big Little
School. According to these scholars the Sunday school began in England in
the 1780s when a Gloucester newspaper publisher, Robert Raikes, became
concerned about the "pit of misery" surrounding the pin-making industry of
his town. On Sundays unsupervised children wandered around in bands,
doing damage to property and causing nervousness among genteel Angli-
cans. Raikes hired a teacher in 1780 to provide education for the children
and to keep them under control. By 1785 Raikes' beginnings had developed
into a movement. Another layman, London draper William Fox, led others in
forming "A Society for the establishment and support of Sunday-Schools
throughout the kingdom of Great Britain." Two years later English Sunday
school enrollments exceeded 250,000. 56
American beginnings took place contemporaneously. In 1780 Philadel-
phians created a First Day Society which numbered Roman Catholic
Mathew Carey among its sponsors. Although the Sunday school thrived
chiefly within the orbit of evangelical Protestantism, this Philadelphia
venture into early ecumenism revealed a basic nondenominational character
which prevailed in the Sunday school movement for much of its history. Mrs.
Joanne Bethune of New York gave the fledgling movement one of its first
institutional shoves in 1816 with her Female Union for the Promotion of
Sabbath Schools in New York City. Her husband responded to a similar
impulse by supporting the New York Sunday School Union Society. 57
The initial impulse for Sunday schools was charity mixed with some
concern for social order as Raikes and his followers sought to aid children in
harsh urban circumstances. The American context, however, provided cir-
cumstances for the transformation of its purpose. An "exercise in charity was
converted into a prep school for the whole of evangelical America." The
American Sunday School Union, formed in Philadelphia in 1824, passed a
resolution six years later pledging that within the next two years it would
create "a Sunday school in every destitute place where it is practicable,
throughout the Valley of the Mississippi." Its ensuing Valley Campaign
stretched from Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains, seeking to bring the
Sunday school gospel to every hamlet along the booming frontier. People
from a variety of denominational backgrounds crossed barriers in the
common enterprise of spreading these new institutions across the landscape.
Most famous of the frontier agents was Stephen Paxson, who began his
56 Robert W. Lynn and Eliott Wright, The Big Little School: Sunday Child of American
Protestantism (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 3-7.
57 Ibid., pp 10-12.
98 The Bible and the University
career in Illinois during the 1840s. Riding his horse, "Raikes," Paxson
established some 1200 schools during a twenty-year period. 58
The frontier provided special opportunities for the Sunday school. Lack
of trained clergy and booming populations that constantly shifted as the
frontier moved westward required new portable forms of Christianity.
Circuit riders, colportuers and Sunday school agents became the carriers of
a simplified, quickly grasped message. Books were scarce, so Sunday school
leaders moved to fill the gap. An 1859 Manual of Public Libraries in the
United States reported that of the more than 50,000 libraries in the land,
30,000 were operated by Sunday schools. 59
The American Sunday School Union kept an eye on the eastern cities
also. In 1856 it published an alarmist report about the "refuse population of
Europe, rolling in vast waves upon our shores." As the tide of immigrants
moved westward it deposited its "dregs upon our seaboard." Sunday school
leaders worried about children of these newcomers, "a wretched progeny,"
and called for response from the Union members. 60
Lynn and Wright describe the failings of this "big little school."
Evidences of nativism appeared frequently in the rhetoric of leaders and in
their convention resolutions. The leaders of the schools seemed unwilling or
unable to speak out on major social issues like slavery, and appeared for the
most part to be wedded to conservative social stances. Yet the fact remains
that the Sunday school became a primary carrier of the Christian faith and
literacy on the frontier and in the cities during the nineteenth century.
Harper's challenge to this important institution came shortly after the
movement went through its "second birth" in 1872. Following the Civil War,
an "Illinois Band" led by Benjamin F. Jacobs, John H. Vincent, and Edward
Eggleston had moved into leadership roles in the Sunday school movement.
By 1875 they had developed a voluntary network in most of the states and
provinces of the United States and Canada. With the assistance of the new
International Sunday School Conventions, which met every three years, the
Illinois leaders sought to systematize the Sunday school movement. Trou-
bled by inefficiency and lack of order in most of the schools, Vincent and
Jacobs responded with several innovative ventures. Vincent began "Sunday
School Teacher's Institutes" like the one which led to the creation of
Chautauqua. With his new publication the Sunday School Teacher, he
advocated a "uniform lesson plan" model of Sunday school instruction.
Jacobs enthusiastically backed the idea of a seven-year cycle of plans in
which "each lesson would be studied by every person, from infants to the
infirm, in every Sunday school."
Dwight L. Moody described the decision made in 1872 to adopt the
58 Ibid., pp 14, 17-20, 28-29.
59 Ibid., p. 31.
60 Ibid., p. 33.
The Critical Reformation 99
international lesson system as a "holy event." On a more mundane level the
uniform plan made it possible for any Sunday school pupil to attend a class
anywhere in the English-speaking world and study the same lesson on a
given Sunday. Successful businessmen like Lewis Miller, John D. Rockefel-
ler, H.J. Heinz and John Wanamaker became leaders of local schools and
promoters of the International Sunday School system. At the same time that
Harper came into prominence the organizing efforts of the advocates of
international systems for the schools achieved their greatest success. In 1889
the First World Sunday School Convention was held. Thirteen years later an
enthusiastic delegate to the 1902 Convention of the ISS proclaimed a sense
of destiny that seemed to permeate the movement and the age:
God seems to be offering to America the leadership of the
world .... In a peculiar and special sense this International Conven-
tion seems to have been put in trust of the Gospel and of the world's
Thus in 1895 when his Biblical World proclaimed that nine-tenths of
Sunday school teaching was a "farce," Harper was positioning himself
against the flow of a widespread popular movement. What was necessary, his
journal claimed, was a "conversion of the Sunday School" into a genuine
educational institution. Problems of modern religious doubt could be
"traced to the instruction in the Bible received in the Sunday School." 62 A
great deal of the blame finally had to fall on Vincent and Jacobs' great
invention, the uniform lesson system.
Editorials in the Biblical World relendessly scored the state of affairs in
the conventional Sunday school. The "low intellectual ability" of the
teachers did not escape criticism. There was an ever present "danger" that
younger students would confuse activities like marching and "a general
good time" with authentic religion. Adolescents, on the other hand, lost
respect for materials that treated the biblical message in the same manner
they were used to in grammar school. The chief difference between mate-
rials prepared for children and those for adults seemed to be the pictures.
There was a "fundamental evil" in Sunday school instruction: uniformity in
subject and method. The first element in Harper's proposed reform of the
Sunday school, therefore, was the "principle of grading." Children should
learn stories, young people should spend their time on biblical facts and
history. Adults needed to grapple with abstract doctrinal issues and relate
them practically to everyday life. 63
Harper and his colleagues intended to turn every Sunday school teacher
61 Ibid., pp. 56-71.
62 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 3 (September 1895): 164; "The
Teaching Ministry," ibid. 15 (March 1900): 167.
63 William Rainey Harper, "Teacher Training," ibid. 24 (October 1904):245; "Editorial,"
ibid. 12 (August 1898): 66ff.
100 The Bible and the University
into an "interpreter." They prepared a complete curriculum of specialized
materials which would teach genuine biblical knowledge. Two distinct
series of courses appeared, a "Comprehensive" or "Outline" series and a
variety of special courses which focused on particular topics or books of the
Bible. Children and adolescents were divided by age groups, 5—9, 10—14,
and 15-19. Materials stressed repetition, review, independent thought, and
definite demonstrable results. If a young pupil completed the entire program
which Harper and his colleagues had devised that individual would be forty
years old by the time every course had been taken. 64
Some of Harper's innovations seem implausible seventy-five years later.
He proposed a regular program of examinations for Sunday school classes,
and he had the American Institute of Sacred Literature create a special
department to assist in preparing the tests. In effect the Sunday school
became a little "seminary" with seminar methods as the norm. Students
were to prepare before coming to class. A problem-centered approach was to
be used, with pupils presenting reports on independent work. Prizes were to
be awarded, not for attendance or memory work but for real scholarly
For Harper the "singular oversight" in the Sunday school of his day was
the teacher. Authoritarian and poorly disciplined teaching forced pupils to a
mystical type of faith rather than to a thinking one. Aids for teachers to use
in preparation shortcircuited their learning and therefore robbed the stu-
dents. The chief problem was that these aids "do all the work" for the
teacher rather than requiring inquiry and serious preparation. These teach-
ers needed to learn a new sentence which would indicate a change in their
status: "I don't know" could make them co-inquirers rather than junior
authority figures. 66
Responsibility for the teachers' poor preparation was laid at the door of
clergy — whose job it was to train them. Harper's solution for this problem
was to evangelize for a new calling, the Bible teacher. One thoroughly
trained teacher in each Sunday school could instill a critically reformed
perspective in the remainder of the teachers. To accomplish this the AISL
announced a series of "Teacher-Training Courses" in June of 1904. 67
64 William Rainey Harper, "The Necessity of Biblical Training For Lay Workers," ibid. 16
(December 1900):405; "A Plan of Bible Study For Sunday Schools," The Old and New
Testament Student 11 (October 1890): 198-206.
65 William Rainey Harper, "American Institute of Sacred Literature: An Examination on
the Gospel of Luke," ibid. 10 (January 1890):57; "Editorial," The Biblical World 13 (March
66 Harper, "The Teaching Ministry," p. 164; "Editorial," ibid. 12 (October 1898):228;
"The American Institute of Sacred Literature," The Old and New Testament Student 12
(June 1891): 381.
67 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Biblical World 6 (September 1895): 165; "The
Teaching Ministry," p. 166; "American Institute of Sacred Literature: Training Courses for
Sunday-School Teachers under the Direction of the Institute," ibid. 23 (June 1904):467.
The Critical Reformation 101
Instead of merely exhorting other Sunday school leaders from the safety
of their new gothic towers at the University of Chicago, Harper and his
colleagues entered the fray themselves. One journal editorial proclaimed:
"nearly every member of the editorial staff of the Biblical World is directly
connected with practical Sunday-School work; that is, doing work in a
Sunday school." In addition, the journal came to regard Sunday school
teachers as its main area of concern, and announced that decision in its
August 1899 issue. 68
In addition to building his university on Chicago's south side Harper
presided over the Hyde Park Baptist Church Sunday School where ideas
expressed in the Biblical World took concrete shape. Harper tested ideas in
this "laboratory" and published them for use elsewhere. In May 1899, the
"Work and Workers" section of the Biblical World gave a glimpse into this
model school. It was staffed by a superintendent [Harper], assistant super-
intendent, secretary, treasurer, and directors of spiritual work, instruction,
public exercises, benevolence, and the library. 554 students were grouped in
three divisions: elementary, intermediate, and adult, each headed by a
principal. Students were placed into grades not on the basis of public school
status, but biblical knowledge. Grades 1—3 concentrated on biblical stories,
4-6 on biblical biographies, 7-8 on separate books of the Bible, 9-12 on
biblical history. Adults selected electives from an extensive menu of sub-
jects. Sessions lasted an hour and a quarter. The first half of a period was for
instruction, the second half for worship. 69
Underneath Harper's innovative materials and administrative sugges-
tions was an understanding of the Sunday school quite different from that of
the evangelical mainstream that had fostered it. Was biblical revelation static
or progressive? Was the purpose of the Sunday school preaching or instruc-
tion? Were people to be molded into one uniform system, or clustered in
grades according to ability and knowledge? In each case Harper opted for
the latter alternative and led the protest against the predominance of the
The Public Grade School
One of the reasons for Harper's concern for a reformed Sunday school
was an awareness that family life in America had significantly changed.
Families no longer seemed able to provide the religious instruction that
Harper believed had once been their primary responsibility. 71 Concern
about this situation impelled him, if only in preliminary ways, to venture
occasionally into another arena, the public grade school. He searched the
68 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial Letter," ibid. 14 (August 1899):85.
69 William Rainey Harper, "Work and Workers," ibid. 13 (May 1899):353-54.
70 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 11 (March 1898):145ff.
71 William Rainey Harper, "Religious Education in the Home," ibid. 21 (January 1903) :3.
102 The Bible and the University
grade schools of his day for some evidence of biblical instruction. Without
this chief "instrument of character building" the schools were operating with a
serious handicap. Therefore the Biblical World pleaded for a restoration of the
Bible to the common schools, viewing these institutions as places where the
study of fundamental religion should occur. The solution the journal advocated
for this lack at home and school was nonsectarian Bible study — but in a new
location, the public classroom. While the idea failed to mature from proposal
into program, it was of sufficient interest to receive backing from eminent
educators like Nicholas Murray Butler at the 1902 convention of the National
Education Association, an indication that the American educational world was
still sufBciendy Protestant-tinctured not to be immediately alarmed at the idea
of religious instruction in public schools. 72 What Harper and people sympahetic
to this suggestion did not bother to ask was whether this variety of biblical study
might also have its own sectarian character.
The College Curriculum
The properly interpreted Bible had to be inserted into the curricula of
all of America's educational institutions, not merely those affecting children.
Therefore, Harper asked, "Shall the study of the Bible have a place in the
college curriculum?" In 1886 he challenged his readers with the observation
that the study of the Bible in America's colleges was an "outside work."
There was no place for the Bible in these schools' curricula — and this charge
was not confined merely to the newer secular institutions in the land. Even
the denominational colleges, founded under impulses of biblical faith, had
made no curricular room for biblical instruction. 73
Harper's experience at Yale provided a paradigm for launching a college
Bible study movement. At Yale he began his teaching within the confines of
the Semitics Department and the Divinity School. Only as he built a popular
following did study of the Bible in English begin to take its place within the
college curriculum. By 1890 Yale had an official chair of English Bible; the
first incumbent — Harper. As he previously had done with the study of
Hebrew, Harper converted personal triumph into a national campaign.
Before long he was coaching a movement that sought to teach the English
Bible, train competent Bible teachers, and place academic value on biblical
study. The "most serious blunder in the American education of the last
half-century," he claimed, was ignoring the Bible in higher education. 74
72 William Rainey Harper, "The Bible and the Common Schools," ibid. 20 (October
1902):244--17; "Notes and Opinions: Should the Bible Be Taught As Literature in our
Public Schools?" ibid., pp. 302-5.
73 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 7 (September 1887): 1;
"The Study of the Bible by College-Students," ibid. 6 (March 1887):196ff; "Editorial," ibid.
8 (November 1888): 83.
74 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," ibid. 7 (October 1887):38; "Bible Study Versus
The Critical Reformation 103
To accomplish his objectives Harper reiterated his call for a new
approach to the Scriptures, one informed by his critical perspective. In
addition, however, the Bible needed to be studied because of its "classic"
value. Believer and unbeliever alike needed to know the contents of the
book because of its unparalleled role in human history. To succeed in this
setting, he argued, the book should be approached in a collegiate manner,
not in the old style associated with traditional methods employed in Sunday
schools. Students needed to develop a method of inquiry that was reverent,
historical, logical, comprehensive, rigid and productive of definite results.
To achieve these kinds of results Harper again resorted to specialization. Just
as he sought to create a new calling — that of the Bible teacher — in the
Sunday school, so within the college environment he called for another
"new calling," the college teacher of English Bible. 75
To orchestrate this movement Harper sent H.L. Willett, formerly his
student at Yale and Chicago, and subsequently field secretary of the AISL, to
the University of Michigan in 1893, where the latter initiated "the first
attempt ever made to provide formal religious instruction in connection with
an American state university." Soon there was a Chair in English study of the
Bible at Ann Arbor, and the Scriptures began to assume an academically
respectable position in other secular institutions. Willett aided the spread of
the movement from Michigan to the universities of Virginia, Georgia, Texas,
Missouri, and Illinois. Beginning on the perimeter of these institutions the
new courses of instruction worked their way into the official curricula:
"Gradually these institutions granted academic credit for the courses taken,
and in some instances the instructors were made regular members of the
university faculty and their courses included in the university curriculum."
In some cases, Willett claimed, whole departments of biblical literature
sprouted from the efforts of those who responded to Harper's call. 76
Harper's critical reformation had reached into many forms of popular
and theological education. One educational institution remained to be
revamped: the new modem American university. The University of Chicago
became Harper's chosen vehicle for continuing his effort to develop a new
biblical world for moderns. In his new institution in Hyde Park Harper
strove to unite all of his programs into a larger whole, one that could lift a
nation to the higher life.
Theology," The Old and New Testament Student 10 (February 1890): 120; "Editorial,"
ibid. 10 (April 1890):198.
75 William Rainey Harper, "Editorial," The Old Testament Student 7 (October 1887):38;
"The Study of the Bible by College-Students," ibid. 6 (March 1887): 199-202; "Editorial,"
The Biblical World 1 (February 1893):86.
76 Herbert Lockwood Willett, "The Corridor of Years," unpublished autobiography, The
Archives of The Christian Century, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 92—94.
THE UNIVERSITY AND THE RELIGION OF
The unanimous invitation made on September 18, 1890, by a two-
month-old Board of Trustees of a not-yet existent university in Chicago to
assume that institution's presidency presented Harper with the kind of
decision which William James called a "forced, living and momentous"
option. 1 It also gave him an unprecedented opportunity to carry insights
gleaned from his scholarship into a much larger and more public realm than
the one customarily inhabited by his colleagues in biblical studies. No other
biblical scholar of his era attempted to translate a vision shaped by modern
biblical scholarship into a master plan for American educational life on a
scale comparable to that of Harper's effort at Chicago. No other university of
that period was based on a plan that so strenuously sought to keep the
critically interpreted Scriptures integrally related to modern scholarship.
All of Harper's associates shared the sense that he stood at a critical
juncture. Some of them felt that he was on the verge of a colossal mistake.
Yale colleague George T. Ladd, for example, bemoaned the possibility of
Harper's abdication of the most "perfectly unique" position in the land from
which to influence biblical and Semitic studies. Yale's president, Timothy
Dwight, felt betrayed, having just accomplished his goal of raising $50,000 to
establish Harper in a third endowed chair. To these and other associates
Harper seemed a fool, chasing a vision that could never match what already
existed in New Haven.
Harper's former colleagues in Morgan Park, on the other hand, were
elated. For years many of them had believed that the entire enterprise of
building a new institution of learning in Chicago under Baptist auspices
depended upon him. Thomas Goodspeed, a primary agent in wooing John
D. Rockefeller with the dream of a Baptist university to replace the defunct
older University of Chicago, had admitted to Harper on New Year's Eve in
1888 that "I have from the first had but one desire, that you should take the
headship of the University." Baptist fundraiser and subsequent organizer of
1 William James, "The Will To Believe," Pragmatism and Other Essays, intro. by Joseph
L. Blau (New York: Washington Square Press, 1963), p. 194.
106 The Bible and the University
the Rockefeller family philanthropy, Frederick T. Gates, also had felt that
Rockefeller's ultimate decision "hinges at last on your acceptance of the
presidency." Harper alone seemed to possess the vision, drive, stamina and
talent to raise the phoenix of a new school out of the ashes of the defunct old
University of Chicago. 2
While colleagues and friends around the nation waited, Harper dragged
his feet and pondered the offer to head the institution he had been so
successful in selling to John D. Rockefeller in earlier private conversations.
Six months passed before he indicated on February 16, 1891, that he would
make the change. Part of Harper's reluctance was due to the longstanding
lack of Baptist support for their old University of Chicago which had existed
from 1857 to 1886. When offered the presidency of that struggling institution
in April, 1886, Harper had declined in view of the larger possibilities of a
position at Yale. That he had also made a realistic assessment about the
future of the old university became clear when the institution ceased
instruction two months after Harper decided to cultivate New Haven's
greener pastures. Faced in 1890 with this new offer, he met once again the
old problem of a lack of tangible local support for a strong university in
Chicago. In addition he encountered disagreements about the basic charac-
ter of the proposed institution. Throughout the years of preliminary discus-
sions, Harper had lobbied for a full-fledged university. Rockefeller, although
intrigued by Harper's expensive ideas, was reluctant to commit the funds
necessary to make possible the birth of a modern university in Chicago. The
earlier failure of Chicago Baptists to support their first university raised
concerns in the oil tycoon's mind that he might end up as the sole means of
support for this new venture. Other key figures like Goodspeed and Gates
wavered, torn between the grand vision of a full-fledged university and the
much less costly desire to have something — even if only a college — for
Chicago. They were willing to start small and eventually, if possible, expand
the institution from a good college into a great university. Harper's position,
on the other hand, had remained consistent through the years of negotia-
tions. What Chicago, the West and the Baptists needed was a university. In
1889, when it seemed certain that Chicago would be the home of a mere
college, Harper signalled his disapproval of the less ambitious plan by
signing a six-year commitment to Yale. Two years later, he turned back to
Chicago, accepting the presidency only after the Cleveland oil baron
2 George T. Ladd to William Rainey Harper, July 27, 1890, Personal Papers, Box 12,
Folder 16; Timothy Dwight to William Rainey Harper, August 11, 1889, Personal Papers,
Box 12, Folder 16, and July 18, 1890, Personal Papers, Box 1, Folder 13; Samuel H. Lee to
William Rainey Harper, July 15, 1890, Personal Papers, Box 1, Folder 13; Frank K. Sanders
to William Rainey Harper, July 20, 1890, Personal Papers, Box 1, Folder 13; Thomas W.
Goodspeed to William Rainey Harper, December 31, 1888, Personal Papers, Box 9, Folder
5; Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, January 5, 1889, Personal Papers, Box 8,
The University and the Religion of Democracy 107
committed an additional $1,000,000 to his original pledge of $600,000,
impressive proof that Rockefeller was willing to pursue Harper's larger
Another factor had clouded Harper's decision about the Chicago presi-
dency. The Morgan Park Baptists, with their appealing candidate named
Harper, were in competition with others who wanted to build the Baptist
university for America. Dr. James C. Welling had argued for Washington
D.C. as the site for the new institution. A much more serious rival was
Augustus H. Strong, president of Rochester Seminary and advocate of a
scheme calling for a Baptist university in New York City. Strong was close to
the Rockefeller family, an occasional guest, like Harper, at the Rockefeller
home, and father of a son destined to marry into the Rockefeller family.
Strong's scheme was more extravagant than was Harper's. He called for
$20,000,000 from the Rockefeller coffers and intended to erect a modern
version of the medieval university, in which theology would sit as queen
over an ordered graduate curriculum. Harper's talent had not escaped
Strong's eye. As the Baptist visionaries hawked their academic wares, Strong
sought to include Harper within his scheme by offering a leadership position
in his proposed New York enterprise. When that tactic failed to diminish
enthusiasm for the Chicago idea, Strong suddenly became concerned about
Harper's orthodoxy and attacked him by raising doubts in Mr. Rockefeller's
mind about Harper's approach to the Scriptures. 4
Deeply wounded by Strong's accusations, Harper received contradica-
tory letters from Gates, Goodspeed and George W. Northrup suggesting both
public defense against Strong's charges and withdrawal from candidacy for
the Chicago presidency. Gates counseled reticence. Goodspeed assured
Harper of his confidence in him and in his orthodoxy. Seminary president
Northrup wondered if his former colleague should state his beliefs clearly to
find if they were radically divergent from those of other Baptist leaders. If so,
Harper "should not identify with great public interests which would thereby
share in [his] troubles." Because of the innuendos being voiced, the call to
the presidency became a moment of truth for Harper. More was involved
3 Thomas W. Goodspeed, "The Beginnings of Things in The University of Chicago,"
unpublished manuscript (n.d.), Personal Papers, Box 12, Folder 11; William Rainey Harper
to the Board of Trustees of the [old] University of Chicago, May 8, 1886, Personal Papers,
Box 12, Folder 14; Thomas W. Goodspeed to William Rainey Harper, December 31, 1888,
Personal Papers, Box 9, Folder 5; Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, November
23, 1888, Personal Papers, Box 8, Folder 17 and April 27, 1891, Personal Papers, Box 8,
Folder 19; Thomas W. Goodspeed to William Rainey Harper, February 18, 1889, Personal
Papers, Box 9, Folder 6; Frederick T. Gates, Chapters of My Life (New York: The Free
Press, 1977), pp. 118-19.
4 Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, April 18, 1889, Personal Papers, Box 8,
Folder 17, and Chapters of My Life, p. 95; Goodspeed, A History of The University of
Chicago, p. 39; Storr, Harper's University, p. 27; William Rainey Harper to Augustus H.
Strong, January 4, 1889, Personal Papers, Box 1, Folder 8.
108 The Bible and the University
than accepting the challenge of building a new institution. Harper's views
were on trial before Rockefeller and acceptance of the offered presidency
seemed possible only if his carefully achieved biblical perspective was
approved by the tycoon and his associates.
Rockefeller chose not to get involved in technical doctrinal matters.
Strong's questionable timing of his accusation, plus a misguided letter which
stressed the oil millionaire's unpopularity while praising the New York plan
as a chance for Rockefeller to secure the "favorable judgments" of posterity,
did much to mute the magnate's concern about Harper. Unhesitating
endorsement by Thomas W. Goodspeed and several other Baptist patriarchs
was sufficient testimony to convince Rockefeller to commit his dollars and
his reputation into the hands of the biblical scholar. Strong's expression of
concern about Harper's orthodoxy, while possessing a potential for a pro-
longed debate, amounted to little more than an exchange of several letters;
it was followed by an eventual hatchetburying after Rockefeller made his
decision for Harper and Chicago. 5
Installation as president of the new Baptist university in Chicago in the
face of the preceding allegations of doctrinal impurity gave Harper added
incentive for revealing his biblical stance. As late as 1889 Harper had
expressed nervousness about claiming responsibility for the critical views
expressed in his technical journal, Hebraica. After opening his university,
however, Harper publicly declared himself on many sensitive issues of
biblical interpretation. As the only professional educator on the original
board of trustees of the university, Harper held a unique position as the only
expert on biblical study and university design among all who would shape
the policy of the new institution. Clearly, there was ample room for his vision
for both enterprises to take shape. 6
It is not the purpose of this chapter either to recount the details of
Harper's years of forming and leading his university or to pick apart the
structure he raised. These tasks have been done in Goodspeed's dated A
History of The University of Chicago, Storr's Harper's University and Gale
W. Engle's "William Rainey Harper's Conceptions of the Structuring of the
5 Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, January 11, 1891, Personal Papers, Box 8,
Folder 18; Thomas W. Goodspeed to William Rainey Harper, April 12, 1888, Personal
Papers, Box 9, Folder 5; George W. Northrup to William Rainey Harper, January 4, 1891,
Personal Papers, Box 1, Folder 16. H.L. Morehouse's letter of encouragement to Harper,
which also informed him that Rockefeller "has neither the time nor the inclination to
decide mooted theological questions," was written on February 2, 1891 and is quoted in
Goodspeed, A History of The University of Chicago, pp. 126-27. Augustus H. Strong to
John D. Rockefeller, November 26, 1887, is quoted in Gould, The Chautauqua Movement,
6 See above, p. 50. Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, May 31, 1890, Personal
Papers, Box 8, Folder 18; Storr, Harper's University, p. 43.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 109
Functions Performed by Educational Institutions." 7 Instead, the focus here
is on the religious vision that Harper carried into his university presidency
and the significant implications that accompanied it. His professional ad-
vancement from biblical scholarship to university administration offered
Harper the unparalleled opportunity to channel his reforming impulse into
new efforts to reshape or at least reconceive the total configuration of higher
education in America. Harper, like Tammany Hall's "boss" George Wash-
ington Plunkitt, saw his opportunities and "took 'em." 8 Functioning as the
conceptual architect of his new institution he fashioned a university which
sought to reshape the nation. Seizing many significant educational innova-
tions from the last half of the nineteenth century, Harper formed a distinctive
educational edifice with an overarching religious purpose.
In each previous transition in his life, Harper had left little behind.
When he moved to Yale from Morgan Park, for example, all the apparatus of
the fledgling Hebrew movement went along. Returning to Chicago, Harper
brought with him the American Institute of Sacred Literature, the
Chautauqua movement and all the concerns of his critical reformation.
Counseled by Mrs. Rockefeller and Gates to give up his Chautauqua work,
Harper did the opposite. Instead of shedding the time-consuming responsi-
bilities of overseeing Chautauqua's complex program, he reorganized his
schedule to permit frequent commuting back and forth between western
New York and northeastern Illinois. In the process he attempted one more
effort at reorganization of the Chautauqua system. When his attempt to
separate the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle from the New
York-based Chautauqua institution and bring it to Chicago failed to gain
support from the Chautauqua leaders, Harper reluctantly scaled down his
efforts for them, and eventually resigned, but not without incorporating
many aspects of Chautauqua's system into his university program. 9
His university sought to incorporate the Bible movement with its
concerns for religious education, seminary reform, and popular education
into its new organization of learning. Somehow in this institution religious
and biblical concerns would co-exist peacefully with emerging specialized
education. The challenge of building such a university provided Harper
with the opportunity to widen his vision once again. From 1891 on, Harper's
gaze extended to the edges of the American educational enterprise, and
occasionally peered across the ocean to appraise the status of European
7 Engel, "William Rainey Harper's Conceptions of the Structuring of the Functions
Performed by Educational Institutions."
8 William L. Riordan, ed., Plunkitt of Tammany Hall (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.,
1963), p. 3.
9 Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, July 20, 1891, Personal Papers, Box 8,
Folder 19; William Rainey Harper to George E. Vincent, August 5, 1898, Personal Papers,
Box 4, Folder 11; William Rainey Harper to John H. Vincent, May 31, 1899, Personal
Papers, Box 4, Folder 29.
110 The Bible and the University
learning. As he proceeded, Harper began to grapple with the fundamental
problem of integrating pluralistic American life. In his occasional writings on
university education and life, Harper began to articulate an understanding of
a new form of public religion which he believed could respond to modernity
and its pluralism. This understanding, expressed in the piecemeal manner of
an individual who always had a list of 50 items needing immediate attention,
was rooted in his biblical perspective, nurtured in a new educational system
and participated in by all who breathed the spirit of democracy.
Sources for the Vision
As long as his colleagues in Chicago had toyed with the idea of a college
rather than a university, Harper's interest in the enterprise had remained
moderately warm. Gates's stationery during those days carried a letterhead
which indicated the pervasive uncertainty about the identity of the proposed
school: "The New Institution of Learning in Chicago Under the Auspices of
The American Baptist Education Society." For a short time during the
period prior to his formal invitation to be president of an authentic univer-
sity, Harper considered being part of a triumvirate which would shape such
a school during its first five years. He would remain at Yale but share
responsibility with others for building the institution. Requested to come
forth with his own model for the less ambitious enterprise, Harper stalled,
unwilling or unable to offer a scheme for a smaller western version of Yale
On September 10, 1890, John D. Rockefeller, E. Nelson Blake, Marshall
Field, Frederick T. Gates, Francis E. Hinckley, and Thomas W. Goodspeed
took the step that fired Harper's passion and propelled him into action. They
became incorporators of a university and filed a charter which declared that
Chicago would soon be the home of an institution that would contain "all
departments of higher education," "one or more academies," "manual
training schools," "one or more colleges," and
maintain a University, in which may be taught all branches of higher
learning, and which may comprise and embrace separated depart-
ments for literature, law, medicine, music, technology, the various
branches of science both abstract and applied, the cultivation of the
fine arts, and all other branches of professional or technical education
which may properly be included within the purposes and objects of a
university. . . .
Eight days later the Board of Trustees elected Harper President. 11
10 Frederick T. Gates to William Rainey Harper, June 20, 1889, Personal Papers, Box 8,
Folder 17; Goodspeed, A History of The University of Chicago, pp. 56-57, 132.
11 "The Charter of the University," The University of Chicago Official Bulletins,
(1891-92), The Department of Special Collections, The Joseph L. Regenstein Library, The
University of Chicago, p. 4.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 111
Harper's train ride home from the Chicago Board meeting was momen-
tous. Although he asked for six months to consider the Board's offer, he did
not hesitate to let the idea of the new university come to life on paper. Upon
reaching New Haven, he wrote to Rockefeller:
On my way from Chicago the whole thing outlined itself in my
mind and I have a plan which is at the same time unique and
comprehensive, which I am persuaded will revolutionize study in
this country. ... It is very simple, but thoroughgoing.
In December of 1890 Harper presented his plan to the Board of Trustees.
Although its author was still one month away from accepting the appoint-
ment to serve as president, his plan was published in January 1891 as the
first official publication of the University of Chicago. Five other "official
bulletins" followed during the next seventeen months, filling in details of
the vision hastily scribbled into one of Harper's everpresent notebooks on
the train ride to New Haven. 12
Harper's six Bulletins provide a locus classicus for his vision of his new
task: the construction of a university with room for a critically studied Bible
at its heart. The Bulletins are Harper's first public statements on the subject
of university education in America. There is no evidence to suggest that he
sat down and read carefully on the subject of university education; on the
contrary, his writings on the subject are remarkably free of references to
authorities on the subject. Engel argues that because of Harper's lack of
reference to them it is not possible to determine how much influence the
failed attempts to import the tripartite Prussian model of elementary,
gymnasium and university education made by Presidents Henry P. Tappan
at the University of Michigan and William W. Folwell at the University of
Minnesota had on Harper. It is true that the new president went to Europe
to study German educational models, but he did so only after preparing his
own initial plan. 13
Instead of turning to Germany for his paradigm, Harper drew upon
American sources. Johns Hopkins University under the leadership of Daniel
Coit Gilman held out new possibilities for graduate education. In an essay
on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Johns Hopkins, Harper did acknowledge
the significance of the school's founding for American higher education. 14
But Joseph E. Gould has called attention to another source for Harper's
ideas, one given little or no attention by Goodspeed, Storr, or Engel.
Reproducing the organizational proposal John H. Vincent had presented to
the Chautauqua trustees in 1885 alongside the one offered by Harper in his
Bulletins six years later, Gould found significant parallels.
12 Goodspeed, William Rainey Harper, pp. 110-11.
13 Engel, "William Rainey Harper's Conceptions of the Structuring of the Functions
Performed by Educational Institutions," p. 175.
14 Harper, "The Contribution of Johns Hopkins," The Trend in Higher Education in
America, pp. 151ff.
112 The Bible and the University
Harper's University Proper corresponds to the formally orga-
nized and accredited College of Liberal Arts, or "Chautauqua Uni-
versity," the difference being that the Chicago institution was to meet
four times a year (in four assemblies, so to speak) and Chautauqua
only once. The C.L.S.C. (Literary and Scientific Circles) had its
counterpart at the new institution, as did the newly devised system of
extension lectures under university auspices and for university credit.
The plan for affiliation of colleges with Chicago may have had its
inspiration from the many "litde Chautauquas" that had sprung up all
over the country. . . .
Instead of regarding the summer quarter as an appendage to the
regular college year, it is possible to regard the autumn, winter, and
spring quarters as extensions of the Chautauqua idea; to offer four
sessions rather than one. "Majors" and "minors" have their counter-
part in the course work offered in the Chautauqua College of Liberal
Arts, with its emphasis on intensive work during a relatively short
period of time. The concept of the extension of university resources to
everyone, regardless of age or academic preparation, was a
Chautauqua idea, as was the proposal to allow work toward a degree
to be distributed over a long period of time, or concentrated or
divided between work in residence and work by correspondence. 15
It is not necessary to accept every one of Gould's judgments in order to
appreciate the significance of the Chautauqua experience in the formation of
Harper's vision. At the same time, one can see the rudiments of Harper's
vision in his autochthonous Hebrew movement. Disturbed by waste of time
in traditional academic calendars, Harper had filled his summer and holiday
vacations with Hebrew study prior to his affiliation with Chautauqua. His
publishing ventures antedate the Chautauqua years as well, and may be the
authentic harbingers of Harper's concerns for a university press. Correspon-
dence study was at the heart of his Bible study movement; it was part of
Harper's program before he became associated with Chautauqua. 16
The Gould hypothesis, plus the recollection of Harper's own educa-
tional innovations in the early 1880s, are resources for understanding the
vision that emerged in the Bulletins. Harper did not need to turn to Europe
for his model, nor did he need to read the catalogues and speeches of
university leaders who preceded him. His model had been under construc-
tion from the beginnings of his interest in Hebrew in New Concord, Ohio.
Yale and Chautauqua were other primary sources for forging the personal
vision which altered the educational terrain of modern America.
A New Institution
What was the vision? The university's Charter stipulated that the
institution would be governed by Baptists, requiring that two-thirds of the
trustees and the president had to be "members of regular Baptist churches."
15 Gould, The Chautauqua Movement, pp. 60-61.
16 See Chapter 4, pp. 82, 84f.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 113
This initial and "forever unalterable" requirement could "not be amended
or changed at any time." But if Baptist colleagues breathed a sigh of relief
after reading about the institutional leadership, a subsequent sentence
should have given pause. "No other religious test or particular religious
profession" could be made requisite for any other position in the university.
A careful balance between Baptist auspices and nonsectarianism set the
religious tone of the new institution. 17
Within that religious context Harper announced an ambitious and
unprecedented plan. This university would have "three general divisions,"
the University Proper, the University Extension Work, and the University
Publication Work. With his first official sentence about his new institution,
Harper had widened the scope of university education to include aspects of
education which previously had been regarded as non-university matters. In
the same breath he called for the creation of the first university-owned press
in America. 18
Harper envisioned an edifice of complementary institutions within what
he called the University Proper. There would be Academies for pre-college
level students. Colleges of Liberal Arts, Science, Literature and Practical
Arts took places on the next rung of the educational ladder. Colleges from
other parts of the nation would "affiliate" with the university, thus allowing
Harper to extend his university's influence beyond its walls. A Graduate
School and the Divinity School were to be organized at once, with Schools
in Law, Medicine, Engineering, Pedagogy, Fine Arts, and Music added "as
soon as funds permit." 19
Harper's University Extension program would offer regular courses of
lectures, evening courses, correspondence programs and library extension
services to carry learning to a wider circle than those who could travel to the
university and enroll in its programs. Only one academic subject merited
individual attention in his first bulletin: "special courses in a scientific study
of the Bible in its original languages and in its translations" would be a
primary component of the extension program. The Hebrew movement thus
would make its way into the modern American university. For those who
could not participate in his extension program Harper created the third
division, the University Publication Work. 20
After sketching the outlines of his blueprint, Harper turned his attention
to a series of specific suggestions for the new institution. Faculty meetings
would be held once a month. All university officers, "including the Presi-
dent," were required to teach. The academic year would have four twelve-
week quarters which would begin on the first day of October, January, April
17 "Official Bulletin," No. 1 (January 1891), p. 5.
18 Ibid., p. 7.
19 Ibid., pp. 7-8.
1 14 The Bible and the University
and July respectively. The quarters were to be divided into two six-week
terms. Students would concentrate efforts in major and minor courses.
Entrance to the university was by examination, and certificates from other
institutions were not acceptable. 21
For the quarterly fee of $25.00 students put themselves into rigorous
circumstances. It was not enough to pass a final examination at the end of a
course; Harper called for a second examination on course material to be
taken twelve weeks after the first one — a proposal that can still send chills
down the spines of test-takers and graders alike. Completion of six majors
and six minors enabled a student to advance to "the next higher class." No
longer were students to be grouped as freshmen, sophomores, etc. Instead
they moved along at their own speed. Harper veered away from the fixed
curriculum still prevalent in the majority of America's colleges, but he did
not go quite as far as Harvard's President Charles W. Eliot who made
students arbiters of their own fates with his elective program. Instead Harper
sought a balance — "the proportion of required and elective courses neces-
sary for a degree shall be equal." To make certain that the university's
academic character would be clear from the beginning, Harper declared a
prohibition of honorary doctorates, a policy he would amend several years
One other detail completed Harper's first venture into university design.
Attendance at 12:30 weekday chapel and 9:30 Sunday services was "re-
quired" of undergraduates and "requested" of graduates. Individual depart-
ments and schools within the university were free to hold "special chapel
service for the members of that School" as long as the concerned faculty and
the university Board had given prior approval.
Harper's academic blueprint for the new university filled exactly nine
pages; it was a comprehensive plan, embracing all levels of education. But it
also sought to foster specialization, allowing students, teachers, and partic-
ular institutions to concentrate their efforts on fewer tasks. There was room
for choice in his vision, but there was structure also. This university would
be an institution with a religious character; devoted to arduous education;
reaching out to all areas of American life. 23
In the next year and a half Harper filled in the blank spaces in his vision.
"Official Bulletin" #2 dealt with "The Colleges of the University," and here
Harper proposed a novel distinction between Academic and University
Colleges. By dividing college work into two types Harper hoped to preserve
some of the "advantages of the small college." He also sought to overcome
an inherent problem in the American educational system — one that he had
encountered at Muskingum College as an undergraduate. The nation's
21 Ibid., pp. 9-12.
22 Ibid., pp. 12-13.
23 Ibid., pp. 14-16.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 115
colleges had a tendency to lump together students with elementary educa-
tional skills and those who were prepared for more advanced work. The
academic college would complete the preparatory work of the high schools
and academies of the land; only during the latter part of a college career
would a student be allowed to pursue university-level work. The sharpness
of the distinction between colleges was to have geographical reinforcement
since much of the academic level work would occur away from his new
The Academic College work of the University will, it is hoped,
be accomplished in large measure through its affiliated colleges. This
will permit the University in Chicago to develop its energies mainly
to the University Colleges, and to strictly University work. 24
The academic college would divide its work into ten departments, one
of which was the Department of Biblical Literature in English, while the
envisioned university college expressed its similarity to the proposed grad-
uate program of the university by offering work in twenty-two distinct
schools. The School of Biblical Literature in English and the School of
Semitic Languages and Literature shared curricular status in Harper's plan
with other more conventional areas of instruction, testifying once again that
the properly studied Bible was to have its place. 25
Harper's third Bulletin, "The Academies of the University," testified to
the new president's intention to extend his refonning reach into preparatory
education. Existing high schools and academies would be strengthened by
their affiliation with the University of Chicago; new ones would be planned
in light of the reorganized college program which Harper's grand design
called for. To guarantee that the work of academies would not be confused
with that of college level, Harper stipulated that these schools could not exist
on the campus of his new university. The plan was as ambitious as it was
The University will be enabled to adjust the curriculum of the
academies more closely to that of the earlier college work and thus not
only to avoid what in many cases is a worse than fruitless repetition of
work, but also to prevent abrupt transition from one to the other.
This innovation would simultaneously "reduce the age at which students
may be admitted to college" and "increase considerably the requirements
for admission." Harper unabashedly acknowledged that he was proposing a
system of "feeders" from which students of "the best class" would be
channeled toward the university. At the same time such a network of
academies made possible an academic "farm system" where university
24 "Official Bulletin," No. 2 (April 1891), pp. 2-3.
25 Ibid., pp. 13-16.
116 The Bible and the University
graduates could develop skills that in future years would be attractive when
the university recruited "its own teaching force." 26
The university began its efforts at affiliating prepatory schools by
building its own academy in Morgan Park, the former home of the old
Baptist Theological Seminary. Ever the systematizer, Harper intended to
divide this and other preparatory schools into Lower and Higher Academies.
Lower work would be non-elective; choice could enter the curriculum in the
higher years. Students and faculty of the academies would live by the
calendar of the parent university, sharing the same option to select vacation
time during whichever quarter best fit personal needs. Nine academy
departments, including "Biblical Literature in English," were placed "un-
der the general supervision" of the appropriate university departments. To
insure that the academies would share the same religious character as the
university, Harper's plan specified that chapel attendance would be manda-
tory just as at the university. 27
The proposals Haiper advanced in his first three bulletins established
the basic blueprint for an attempt to restructure the entire configuration of
American education. By joining upper-level college work with that of the
university, and by similarly combining upper-level academy work with the
lower work of the college, Harper was inching toward the German model
advocated by Tappan almost forty years earlier. These proposals also carried
clear imprints of both his Bible study movement and the Chautauqua
program, with Harper consistently finding room in whatever curriculum he
was proposing for the Bible to be read and studied with academic serious-
When Harper turned to plans for the Graduate Schools of the University
in "Bulletin" #4, he proposed twenty-one distinct schools. His personal
commitment to scholarly publication was apparent in the proposal that each
graduate school publish its own journal. 28 Most startling of all the sugges-
tions he offered about graduate education was provision for the addition at an
unspecified date of a post-Ph.D. degree program that would result in the
LL.D. degree. According to this never realized scheme the exalted final
degree of the German universities, the Ph.D., would become a pre-requisite
to be followed by three years of resident work, a thesis and a final exam.
While Haiper had the rare mandate to create a full-blown modern
university on a grander scale than had been seen elsewhere, he did not
begin with a completely free hand. The Baptist Union Theological Seminary
of Morgan Park was part of the initial package that included Rockefeller
dollars and the Harper vision. The seminary traced its roots to early informal
educational efforts of Dr. Nathaniel Colver and Reverend J.C. Clarke who
26 "Official Bulletin," No. 3 (June 1891), pp. 2-3.
27 Ibid., pp. 4-15.
28 "Official Bulletin," No. 4 (April 1892), pp. 2-9.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 117
began teaching would-be ministers in Chicago in 1865. One year later Dr.
George W. Northrup left a post in Church History at New York's Rochester
Seminary to teach systematic theology and organize the fledgling seminary.
For a decade it existed on the southern edge of the city, but financial
difficulties forced relocation to Morgan Park in 1877. During its first decade
Danish-Norwegian and Swedish departments were added to the institution
as immigrant populations placed new needs before earnest Baptist leaders. 29
Harper set out to transform the seminary into a Divinity School, and in
the process created the university's first professional school. Since several
leaders of the Baptist university movement were associated with the semi-
nary, it was assured prominence within the new institution. Some things had
to change, however. As president of the university Harper became president
of the Divinity School, signalling a change in status for Dr. Northrup.
Further, Old Testament Studies would be removed from the Divinity
School. Item #11 on Harper's list detailing the relations of the Divinity
School to the university specified: "The Union shall cease to conduct the
department of Old Testament and Semitic studies. . . ." Instead, item #16
The instruction in the Old Testament and Semitic department
shall be provided by the University: that is, the instructors of the
department shall be members of the faculty of the graduate school and
shall receive their salaries from said University.
After leading a national campaign to open college curricula to serious Bible
study, Harper was not about to allow his enterprise to slip out of sight behind
the professional walls of a Divinity School. The decision to locate his field of
study in the wider context of graduate studies was consistent with his
career-long attempts to give the Bible a more prominent place in American
education. But Harper's decision to move his field of studies out of the
Divinity School may also have unwittingly doomed his passion, Old Testa-
ment studies, to a precarious institutional existence. In this plan critical
study of the biblical texts was separated from the official ministerial curric-
ulum, providing room for a wedge to be driven between criticism and
reverence, the two essential components of his approach to the Scriptures.
Ironically, while protecting his specialty's place within the larger university,
Harper may have sacrificed its impact in the Divinity School and upon its
faculty and students. 30
Those familiar with the Divinity School's distinguished history of
preparing scholars of religion would search in vain for a commitment to
religious research in the fifth "Official Bulletin." Instead, Harper continued
the pastoral course of the School.
29 "Official Bulletin," No. 5 (March 1892), p. 2.
30 Ibid., pp. 4-^5. See Chapter 3, pp. 72-76 for discussion of the obscure relationship of
Harper to the subsequent intellectual history of the Divinity School.
118 The Bible and the University
Its Purpose: The purpose of the Seminary is primarily and
chiefly to fit men to become preachers of the Gospel. To this end
students are instructed in the great doctrines of the Bible, in the chief
facts and teachings of Church History, in the critical translation and
interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, in the constitution and
management of churches, in the composition and delivery of sermons,
and in the practical duties of the pastorate.
Four groups comprised the targeted constituency of the school: those
preparing for or practicing ministry, those preparing for or practicing mis-
sionary work, Christian teachers, and other Christian workers. Toward the
end of his life Harper anticipated the need for a center devoted to graduate
academic study of religion. In his report on the occasion of the university's
tenth anniversary, for example, he suggested that the line between "scien-
tific Divinity" and "practical Divinity must be more sharply drawn and such
reorganization of the work should be brought about as will adapt it more
closely to the needs of different classes of students." 31
Despite its explicitly ministerial character, this Divinity School, how-
ever, would be different. For example, it was open to "students of all
denominations of Christians." Furthermore, to secure the degree of Bachelor
of Divinity a student had to enter this school with a bona fide B.A. degree.
There was room for women — but with a catch.
Women will be admitted to the Divinity School upon equal
terms with men. They will receive no encouragement to enter upon
the work of public preaching, but, on the contrary, are distinctly
taught that the New Testament nowhere recognizes the ordination of
women to the Christian pastorate.
In keeping with his frequently expressed dissatisfactions with the conven-
tional theological encyclopedia, Harper proposed an eightfold departmental
structure which included: 1) Old Testament Literature and Exegesis (appar-
ently something distinct from what Harper intended to do in the University
graduate school), 2) New Testament Literature and Exegesis, 3) Biblical
Theology, 4) Apologetics, 5) Systematic Theology, 6) Church History, 7) an
omnibus Homiletics, Ecclesiastical Polity, and Pastoral Duties Department,
and 8) Missions and Mission Work. In addition Harper made provision for
"instruction in Elocution, Music, and Physical Culture." 32
Not satisfied with reforming the theological content of the seminary's
curriculum, Harper turned to "various kinds of religious work open to
students." The concern for practical work and theological clinics described
in the previous chapter can be seen in a less explicit form in Harper's initial
model for the new Divinity School. 33 Preaching would be allowed, but only
31 William Rainey Harper, The President's Report, July 1892-July 1902 (Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 1903), p. lxxv.
32 "Official Bulletin," No. 5, pp. 6-8.
33 "Official Bulletin," No. 5, p. 11; see above pp. 95f.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 119
"to a limited extent." Students were expected either to assist parish pastors,
or engage in city mission work and the programs of various Sunday schools.
Further, this religious work was a mandatory part of the curriculum.
The practical religious work ... is to be regarded as a regular part
of the Divinity course, and is not undertaken merely by those who
need financial help. This work is under the charge of an officer
specially appointed to superintend it. Every student who is a candi-
date for a degree, or for a certificate, will be required to do a certain
amount of practical work in addition to such preaching as he may do
from time to time.
The last of Harper's blueprints for the new university dealt with "The
University Extension Division." In a spirit reminiscent of Chautauqua, he
to provide instruction for those who, for social or economic reasons,
cannot attend in its class-rooms is a legitimate and necessary part of
the work of every university.
Here and in the bulletin dealing with the academies, Harper departed most
sharply from existing notions of the university. Clark and Johns Hopkins had
narrowed their academic focus to graduate study — at least as much as
nervous trustees and founders would permit. Harper, on the other hand, was
attempting to create a complete edifice of learning that could reach all
people in need of higher learning. The University of Chicago became the
pivotal institution for Harper's larger enterprise of constructing this new
Clearly there were "dangers" in the proposed extension program. Work
that was substandard in quality could be passed off as acceptable, and the
good name of the university would experience "reproach."
But if the work is an organic part of the university, directed and
controlled by the university, and if the distinction between university
work and university extension work is clearly indicated, the danger is
reduced to the minimum.
Harper wanted a separate faculty for the extension — one which would,
however, be accorded the "same rank" as members of other faculties. 35
The Chautauqua paradigm is evident in the structure of the various
departments of the Extension Division, which would include Lecture Study,
Class Work, Correspondence-teaching, Examinations, Library and Publica-
tion, and District Organization and Training. At each place where university
work might be offered around the city and nation, Harper hoped for the
creation of "a Local Centre, governed by a Local Committee." These
centers had to take on "bricks and mortar" as soon as possible.
34 "Official Bulletin," No. 6 (May 1892), p. 2.
35 Ibid., pp. 2-3.
120 The Bible and the University
The ease with which Harper blended his goals for a new modern
university and his evangelical commitments became obvious in his descrip-
tions of the extension program. Most of the institutions which Harper
suggested as possible cooperating agencies in this effort possessed explicit
Christian identities or affiliations. Moreover, Harper went so far as to claim
that since "the University Extension is a great missionary movement, the
missionary spirit must never be stifled." Ever the publicist, he proposed a
new publication for this division, The University Extension Gazette of
If there were no other sources for mining Harper's vision for the
University of Chicago than the Official Bulletins, it would nonetheless still
be possible to isolate several dominant elements in Harper's vision. These
initial writings reveal that for Harper the university became the pivotal
institution for reshaping the existing structure of American education.
Further, they show that his efforts at reconfiguration, in turn, were governed
by the biblical perspective and passion which had motivated him in his
pre-presidential years. Every aspect of the educational configuration he
proposed provided ample opportunity for study of the sacred Scriptures. In
addition, the Bulletins reveal Harper's commitment to specialized educa-
tion: educational tasks were distributed among institutions and people
moved from one institution to another. He wanted system, and strove to
provide it by careful delineation of various schools, departments, and
divisions. With satellite academies and local extension centers he sought to
make his university a national institution. Finally, the university was not an
end in itself; it had a mission to fulfill.
As he periodically released installments of his vision for university
education, Harper labored in his customarily driven manner to establish the
plan at once. The University of Chicago opened in 1892 with an Academy,
Divinity School and Graduate School. Quarterly convocation reports soon
informed the world of promised new buildings, new gifts, new areas of
The dimensions of Harper's public success in Chicago, however, have
kept observers from noticing the larger vision of which the university was
only a part. Harper's private correspondence reveals an astonishing range
and variety of efforts to reshape American education. Letters discussing girls'
schools in Paris, France and Oak Park, Illinois, show the scope of his concern
to affiliate academies and preparatory schools with the university. Harper
sought to link technical schools such as Bradley Polytechnic Institute of
Peoria, Illinois, with the university. Colleges in Stetson, Florida, and
Kalamazoo, Michigan, were also officially affiliated.
Harper seemed to grasp any occasion that might extend the impact of his
new creation. For example, he tried to convince the new president of Brown
36 Ibid., pp. 3-21.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 121
University, W.H.P. Faunce, to take steps toward some kind of cooperative
relationship with the university. His vision of the new possibilities for
American education led him to join an elite group of national educators in a
call for a new university at Washington, D.C., which would sit as the
capstone of an emerging but still-to-be-organized national educational sys-
tem. Harper cooperated with a generation of university presidents like Eliot
of Harvard and Benjamin Wheeler of California to form the Association of
American Universities in order to raise the standards of these new institu-
tions and assist them in developing cooperative approaches to their peculiar
problems. On one occasion Harper admitted privately to Rockefeller that his
goal was to build an "educational trust," a coherent system of American
The only limits on his achievements seemed to be dollars. Luring
acknowledged academic giants from comfortable positions at established
institutions to the new one emerging from the swampy midway on Chicago's
south side required large salaries and costly promises of facilities, journals
and ample funds for supporting research. As Harper worked to bring his
vision into limestone, steel and flesh, he had to count dollars. Rockefeller
consistently sought to keep from being the fail-safe mechanism for Harper's
dreams and, indeed, Harper's vision eventually stretched beyond the oil
magnate's patience. Although he seemed never to lose his respect for
Harper, Rockefeller finally stopped the flow of dollars, and sent in an
independent accountant to attempt to force Harper to live within the
Although his visions were costly, Harper was not profligate. He ab-
horred inefficiency and lack of system. In 1899 Harper expressed his
intolerance for America's obsolete and costly educational configuration in an
address to the Regents of the University of New York on "Waste In Higher
Education." Adopting the "method of a businessman," Harper developed
his own economics of education, in which dollars were not the primary
datum. His economics dealt with the personal, social, and academic costs of
37 William Rainey Harper to Miss Julia H.C. Haly, December 4, 1897, Personal Papers,
Box 3, Folder 20; William Rainey Harper to Miss [?] Jones, June 24, 1898, Personal Papers,
Box 4, Folder 9; William Rainey Harper to Nathaniel Butler, February 5, 1897, Personal
Papers, Box 3, Folder 8; William Rainey Harper to Mr. [?] Stetson, May 21, 1898, Personal
Papers, Box 4, Folder 7; William Rainey Harper to A. Gaylord Slocum, December 14, 1895,
Personal Papers, Box 2, Folder 20; William Rainey Harper to Rev. W.H.P. Faunce, April 4,
1899, Personal Papers, Box 4, Folder 25; William Rainey Harper to J. P. Carney, May 1,
1895, Personal Papers, Box 2, Folder 12; William Rainey Harper to Martin Ryerson, March
3, 1900, Personal Papers, Box 5, Folder 15; William Rainey Harper to John D. Rockefeller,
November 15, 1888, is quoted in Storr, Harpers University, p. 24.
38 Thomas W. Goodspeed to William Rainey Harper, March 29, 1905, reported that a
Rockefeller auditor, Starr J. Murphy, had concluded after an investigation that "we are
here, not conducting a great educational institution, but rather an organized conspiracy to
rob Mr. Rockefeller of his wealth" (Personal Papers, Box 9, Folder 9).
122 The Bible and the University
educational practices which schooled students in "dissipation." Providing a
smattering of knowledge in an increasing number of subjects only set
students on a course destined to be strewn with waste. Furthermore, he
argued that failure to teach students "the habit of accuracy" did incalculable
damage to society. In Harper's opinion, one of the most glaring examples of
waste in the current American model was the division placed between the
fourth year of high school and the freshman year of college, which he termed
a violation of "the laws of nature." It seemed obvious to him that students
were not ready for university methods until the sophomore year at the
earliest. Premature use of advanced methods resulted in the "waste of
interest" of the student. Furthermore, Harper claimed that high school and
elementary preparation had been drawn out much too long. The net result of
America's present practices was tragic waste; by the time a student became
a junior in college he or she had wasted two or three years of life. 39
To Harper the wasteful American structure was a "sin," the problem was
"utter lack of system" caused by the "injurious independence of our separate
institutions." He gratefully noted signs of "this archaic system's" break-
down. But there was still a long list of problems needing resolution.
Traditional notions of the four-year college, for example, were nothing but a
"fetish," which had to be eliminated along with other debilitating customs.
Sixty to 70 percent of college instructors' time was wasted during summer
vacations. And lack of concentration by students and teachers on a few
subjects had to be changed. Harper countered existing scattershot practices
with the claim that "no student can profitably conduct more than three lines
of study at the same time." Challenging the entrenched model of the
professor as generalist he also argued that no instructor should pursue more
than two or at most three courses of teaching at any given time. 40
After looking at systemic matters in preparatory and college teaching,
Harper turned to three basic perceptual changes that needed to occur if
American education was to be free from waste. First, "the principle of
individualism" had to be applied to college education. In the old "class"
idea, there was no room for individuals. Harper's alternative was a sugges-
tion that schools do "a diagnosis of each student," treating each one "as if he
were the only student" in the institution. Efforts to offer more than one
required curriculum were praiseworthy because they fostered individual
development. Harper speculated that as many as five or six distinct groups of
interests should be offered to students. His foil was an unnamed "prominent
president" of an eastern university who felt that
the purpose of the university in its dealing with its students is to
impose upon each of them a like impression; to remove the individ-
39 Harper, "Waste in Higher Education," The Trend in Higher Education in America, pp.
40 Ibid., pp. 87-92.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 123
ualities of the students, and to send them out as if all had been formed
in a given mold. 41
The second problem of perspective was the tendency of teachers to
regard every student in each course "as if he were going to make a specialty
of that department." Doctors of Philosophy who taught at lower college
levels tended to "germanize everything," i.e., to treat each subject in a
specialized manner, appropriate for graduate students but inappropriate for
those who did not seek to master a narrow specialty. Elsewhere Harper
remarked that he often thought that it took students who had completed
European doctorates two or three years back in America before they
overcame the deficiencies of German specialization. What was needed was
a type of teaching which discovered the "interrelationship" between fields
of study. Harper bemoaned the fact that "more than half of the students who
leave college are as ignorant as babes of the organic and logical relation
which exists between the various courses in the ordinary curriculum."
Departmental divisions were "artificial and misleading." 42
Finally Harper tried to overcome his generation's wasteful practices by
advancing an image of cooperation between institutions. Students should
"intermigrate" between schools, participating in a process that presupposed
that colleges and universities would abandon illusory goals of trying to cover
all fields of knowledge equally well. Instead of competing with one another,
the institutions in Harper's new configuration would specialize in one or two
areas of work. When institutions sought to cover the total academic encyclo-
pedia, he believed they were inevitably forced to settle for mediocrity.
Under the prevailing circumstances of the period, Harper believed that
standards for teaching competence and student admissions would continue
to decline. More than 200 colleges and universities were guilty of a "sin
against reason and against God" which brought "shame and reproach upon
a cause so holy as that of higher education." These institutions literally
"stole" money from students in their early college years to fund the work of
higher education at more advanced levels. Denominational schools were
among the worst offenders of this common "practice of fraudulent waste."
Harper concluded his indictment of the existing configuration with the claim
that the American system had "actually murdered hundreds of men" by
making them teach too many subjects while paying miserly wages. 43
As a partial solution to the waste problem Harper advocated acceptance
of certain German notions — especially those which nudged America's edu-
cational system toward a six-year institution which combined the high school
41 Ibid., pp. 93-96.
42 Ibid., pp. 97-99; William Rainey Harper to Miss Ella Young, January 28, 1899, Personal
Papers, Box 4, Folder 22.
43 Harper, "Waste in Higher Education," pp. 102-13.
124 The Bible and the University
and lower college. The high schools in fact became the colleges of the new
Harper, the efficient systematizer, has received considerable attention
from scholars who have acknowledged his role in the creation of significant
academic reforms like the quarter system or the junior college. But all too
often they have failed to see a larger pattern which becomes apparent when
this educational work is put beside his work in popular and religious
education; in essence Harper was attempting to redesign American educa-
tion from top to bottom. The missionary character of Harper's educational
efforts has been equally neglected. Whether attempting to reform the
Chicago public high school system, raiding the faculty of a sister institution,
or landing another bequest for a building, Harper was striving for nothing
less than the redemption of America.
The Messianic Role of the University
On February 22, 1905, immediately prior to undergoing a serious
operation for the carcinoma which took his life less than a year later, Harper
prepared the preface to a collection of his own occasional writings on topics
related to the university. Entitled The Trend in Higher Education, this book
would serve as his final public statement on key educational themes. Harper
did not live long enough to develop his educational philosophy beyond what
appears in this hastily assembled collection of essays. But in those
unsystematically arranged fragments, the reader encounters Harper's final
vision of the relationship between the university and religion. 45
With the same assuredness that accompanied his conviction that science
could demonstrate the facts of the Scriptures, Harper turned to American
higher education and interpreted the facts. He had no doubt that there was
a trend, a plot, to the American story. Harper traced the movement of
education from east to west and viewed the west as the locus of the new and
significant developments of higher education. Indeed he interpreted his
own moment as the beginning of a second era in the history of the American
university, surpassing the one inaugurated with the founding of Johns
Hopkins in 1876. Now the institutions of the east had to look to the west for
their models and guides. The essays collected in The Trend were simply
entries in "a notebook in the great educational laboratory" of America. 46
44 Ibid., pp. 114—17. Harper's efforts to reshape the American high schools took the form
of affiliating various academies, institutes, and high schools with the University of Chicago.
In addition, he served on the Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools and
proposed a plan which would affiliate the city's high schools with the university, Personal
Papers, Box 2, Folder 24.
45 Harper, "Preface," The Trend in Higher Education, pp. vii, viii.
46 Ibid. "Dependence of the West upon the East," ibid., pp. 135-39; "Higher Education
in the West," ibid., pp. 140-50; "The Contribution of Johns Hopkins," ibid., pp. 151-52.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 125
No more compelling picture of Harper's ultimate vision of the modern
university can be found than the one offered in his essay, "The University
and Democracy," first given in 1899 as a Charter Day address at the
University of California. There Harper revealed the place of the university
in his total schema. There Harper the biblical scholar joined Harper the
university president in fashioning a philosophy of education which was
overtly religious and overtly American.
In this essay Harper traced the "slow and tortuous progress" of human-
ity "toward a higher civilization." Democracy, "the highest ideal of human
achievement," was rising, like the "glorious and golden sun lighting up the
dark places of all the world." The university had a peculiar relationship to
this rising sun in the human cosmos, a relationship with origins in the guilds
of the medieval period. Side by side, Harper believed, the university and
democracy had developed, flowing from a common "beginning of that spirit"
which emerged in the "spontaneous confederations" of these associations.
"The university had its birth in the democratic idea; and from the day of its
birth this democratic character, except when state or church has interfered,
has continued." 47
The university became a place where people from diverse nationalities
could intermingle. In these places "secular" disciplines like medicine and
law found a home. New methods of instruction and freedom of expression
were additional "birthmarks" of the university, which was fundamentally an
"institution of the people." Harper embraced the tradition. A university was
a self-governing association of men for the purpose of study; an
institution privileged by the state for the guidance of the people; an
agency recognized by the people for resolving the problems of
civilization which present themselves in the development of civiliza-
The university was the place where humanity's "great problems" could be
addressed. Such a responsibility required people of "the greatest genius,
equipment of the highest order, and absolute freedom from interference of
any kind, civic or ecclesiastical." 48
The special vocation of the university was the preparation of leaders and
teachers for "every field of activity." By preparing this intellectual elite, the
highest group in the multilevelled but interconnected educational world,
Harper believed that the university could relate itself to everything:
The university touches life, every phase of life, at every point. It
enters into every field of thought to which the human mind addresses
itself. It has no fixed abode far away from man; for it goes to those who
cannot come to it. It is shut in behind no lofty battlement; for it has no
enemy which it would ward off. Strangely enough, it vanquishes its
47 Harper, "The University and Democracy," ibid., pp. 1-2.
48 Ibid., pp. 3^5.
126 The Bible and the University
enemies by inviting them into close association with itself. The
university is of the people, and for the people whether considered
individually or collectively.
As he began to unfold the social mission of the university Harper revealed an
assumption about education. The people of America "must be an educated
people." In fact, the first and foremost policy of democracy "must be"
education. Education "is the foundation which underlies all else." Parting
company with Rousseau and others who trusted "an innate and instinctive
wisdom" in people, Harper sought to erect modern life on university
The preceding remarks would be noteworthy simply as representative
of the broad, progressive educational stance of an age if Harper had not
linked them to religion. Others had seen the relationship between democ-
racy and new forms of education. Theoretical giants like John Dewey went
beyond Harper in efforts to make explicit the connection between democ-
racy and education. But none of them turned to the Old Testament for the
key categories to describe the relationship between democracy and the new
American university. Both Harper's personal distinctiveness and the char-
acter of an age in which many could find plausible such public linkages of
university, democracy and biblical particularity come into view when
Harper's argument is carefully considered.
Beginning cautiously, Harper stated cherished American assumptions:
Democracy has nothing to do with religion and yet it has
everything; nothing with the specific form in which the religious
feeling or religious teaching shall express itself, but everything in
making provision for the undisturbed exercise of religious liberty.
But then he turned to a different source. Asking his listeners' pardon for a
digression, President Harper became the Old Testament expert who probed
sacred texts for new revelation. Repeating a point frequently made in
lectures and articles on biblical themes, Harper pointed out that the Hebrew
people were unique:
In the course of their long-continued history they passed through
nearly every form of life, from that of savages to that of highest
civilization, and they lived under nearly every form of government,
from the patriarchal, through the tribal, the monarchical, and the
hierarchical. The history of no other nation furnishes parallels of so
varied or so suggestive a character.
This history could speak to "all men who have religious sympathies" —
Protestant, Catholic or Jew. Harper had found his key integrator in the
history contained within Old Testament. No subject of study was more open
49 Ibid., pp. 6-9.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 127
to all the specialized university disciplines than biblical scholarship. No
history was as universal as that of the Hebrews. 50
Then came a startling statement from a precise Old Testament scholar.
He invested the terms "university" and "democracy" with key meanings
taken from the Old Testament:
Democracy has been given a mission to the world, and it is of no
uncertain character. I wish to show that the university is the prophet
of this democracy, and as well, its priest and its philosopher; that, in
other words, the university is the Messiah of the democracy, its to-be
expected deliverer. 51
The temptation for the late twentieth-century reader is to regard these
words as mere hyperbole, the excited utterance of an individual swept away
in the first flush of his success as university builder. Such an approach does
not do justice, however, to Harper's preceding history. A more meaningful
approach is to view these words in the light of Harper's career as biblical
interpreter. Prophet, priest, sage (philosopher) and Messiah were technical
concepts employed within a highly developed craft. Harper knew what the
words meant and intentionally reapplied them in his new setting. He was
attempting to fit modern American educational reality into biblical catego-
ries, to fashion a new biblical world.
No category was as central to Harper's thought as "prophet." A major
part of his scholarly career had been devoted to reviving the study of
prophecy; it was the distinctive element in Israel's history. Prophets inter-
preted history, they discerned divine activity in the events of past, present
and future. Now Harper prophetically interpreted a piece of history, the
present modern setting. A divine plot was discernible in the midst of the
ebbs and flows of modernity.
How did the university serve as prophet? First like Elijah or Isaiah the
university served as spokesperson for the democracy. The university's
vocation was to read the history of the past fifty centuries and to discern the
"laws of life" operating therein. As Elijah attempted with the religions of
Canaan so the prophetic university was to be the purifier of democracy.
Traces of past ages, of medievalism, needed to be purged in order that
democracy could emerge in pure form.
Just as prophecy developed over centuries of Israel's history so democ-
racy developed slowly over the centuries; it made its way by degrees. Now,
Harper believed, democracy existed in American government, but social
life, the arts, literature and science had not yet been fully touched by its
spirit. He granted that Christianity had its democratic elements, "but the
church is too frequently hostile to the application of democratic principles."
50 Ibid., pp. 10-11.
51 Ibid., p. 12.
128 The Bible and the University
Modern prophets were needed to carry the singular message of democracy
to those areas of life still lacking the liberating word. 52
The prophetic university, like Second Isaiah, bore "the words of the
comforter." In modern society the university was called to soothe the minds
and hearts "of the great multitude of men and women in our great cities, for
whom as individuals there is no hope in life. . . ." It was to bring hope to "a
democracy despondent." 53
Democracy, like the chosen people of the Old Testament, had a mission,
and it was one the prophet could formulate. Again Harper dipped into his
Old Testament lexicon. The mission of democracy was, in a word, righteous-
ness. "The world is waiting for the working out of the doctrine of national
righteousness through democracy. . . ." The university was to use the "ob-
ject-lessons" of the world's history in order to guide the present develop-
ment of the democratic impulse. 54
The prophet also had a responsibility to look ahead:
Mounting the watch-tower of observation, the true leader of
democracy will make a forecast of the tendencies, in order to encour-
age his followers by holding up the glory that awaits them, or, by
depicting the disaster that is coming, to turn them aside from a policy
so soon to prove destructive.
Harper, the university president, was a modern version of the minor prophet
Habbakuk, who more than 25 centuries previously had strained from his
watchtower to see what was coming for the people of Israel. The university
had the same task. 55
The Old Testament prophet based his message on the fact of Israel's
divine chosenness, and Harper was willing to posit just such a ground for the
university's vocation. "The university, I contend, is the prophet of democ-
racy — the agency established by heaven itself to proclaim the principles of
democracy." Individual universities thus became the prophetic schools of
the modern age. They took up their dwellings "in the very midst of squalor
and distress" to provide help and to pronounce judgment on corruption and
scandal. Prophets were some of the "greatest souls the world ever knew."
With hearts touched "by the spirit of the living God," eyes opened "to
visions of divine glory," and arms steeled by "courage born of close
communion with higher powers," they sallied forth on their holy mission. "It
is just so with universities." 56
The second element in Harper's tripartite conception of the university
was that of "priest." A priest must have a religion.
52 Ibid., pp. 12-15.
53 Ibid., pp. 15-16.
54 Ibid., pp. 16-18.
55 Ibid., pp. 18-19.
56 Ibid., pp. 19-20.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 129
Is democracy a religion? No. Has democracy a religion? Yes; a
religion with its god, its altar, and its temple, with its code of ethics
and its creed. Its god is mankind, humanity; its altar, home; its temple,
country. The one doctrine of democracy's creed is the brotherhood,
and consequently the equality of man; its system of ethics is con-
tained in a single word: righteousness.
Here Harper revealed the religious core of his vision. The university was to
nurture a religion for modernity, a religion that could unite all the dimen-
sions of life which modernity separated. Harper found much of Judaism and
Christianity in this religion of democracy. After all, Jeremiah had discovered
one of its cardinal tenets, the "idea of individualism." That idea was given
fundamental place in the teaching of Jesus, "the world's greatest advocate of
democracy." But democracy's religion was truly eclectic, gathering ideas
from more than these two great traditions. Just as Israel had done during its
centuries of intermigrating, democracy had "absorbed many of the best
features of various religions and systems of philosophy." Centuries had
passed before Israel's people accepted the full form of its own religion. So
the modern world still had to be changed before this "world-wide religion"
could be generally accepted. 57
As mediator between humans, the university was to bring the people of
the world "into close communion with their own souls" and then with each
other. By studying the self, the university could lead into communion with
God. The consecrated task of the university was "lifting up the folk of her
environment." No responsibility was more holy. 58
As "keeper" of the holy mysteries, those sacred and significant traditions
of the "church of democracy," the university was to protect them from
"profane hands." At the same time its priestly vocation was to include in the
list of the initiated, "who handled the mysteries," the whole world. The
priestly service of the university was to take place in the homes of the land.
The home was "the altar of democracy, the most sacred altar known to
mankind." Cloaking his educational configuration in priestly vestments,
Harper sought by teaching the nation's teachers to bring "every family in this
entire broad land of ours" into "touch" with the university. As this task was
accomplished the nation would become the "great temple of democracy."
Mediating between rival parties within the land, the university served as
crucible for widely divergent ideas, a place for their mingling. This institu-
tion could hold up consecration to truth as the standard of conduct, reveal the
strange secrets of history and provide ways for discordant notes of pluralism
to come together in the "harmonious sound" which lifted "the soul to higher
and purer thoughts of patriotic feeling." 59
Harper had discovered the priestly tendency in Old Testament religion
57 Ibid., pp. 20-22.
58 Ibid., pp. 22-24.
59 Ibid., pp. 24-26.
130 The Bible and the University
to identify the ways of God with the destiny of the chosen few, the Israelites.
Because of lessons learned in study of the prophets, Harper broadened the
priestly vocation of the university to include concern for all humanity. "The
most profound act of worship" occurred when an individual's thoughts were
lifted "beyond home and country to humanity at large, mankind." The
priestly university had the duty to enlarge the vision of its followers. As
priest it took
infinite trouble to teach men that the ties of humanity are not limited
to those of home and country, but extend to all the world; for all men
The university stood "as mediator between one country and another." All of
humanity had a "common soul"; the university's ministry was to bring
humans and nations into close communication with it. To be sure, Harper
had a religious vision that stressed America's uniqueness in the divine plan.
But his biblical understandings carried him beyond a "religion of the
republic" or "civil religion" toward an inclusive world religion. The same
scholar who had found similarities in the various stories of the world's great
religions viewed the university as the agency that could bring people
together in the world-embracing religion of democracy. 60
A third element in the historic three-fold office of Old Testament
leadership remained — that of sage, or "philosopher." In Harper's own
biblical scholarship the office of sage had received proportionately less
attention than that of prophet or priest. Sages, who appeared in the moment
of Israel's great trial of captivity and defeat, were unique individuals who
could look beyond the boundaries of Israel and see the universal dimensions
implicit in this particular people's monotheism. They were people who
struggled with the "great problems" of history and life.
In the age of the emergence of democracy and the university with its
"serious demands for severe thinking," the philosopher/sage moved to
center stage in Harper's vision. Specifically, the university as philosopher
needed to address itself to three key problems: "the origin of democracy,"
"the philosophy of history," and "the formulation of the laws or principles of
democracy." Harper surveyed the new realities of industrial urban life and
identified problems which threatened the existence of democracy. Social-
ism, population increases in the large cities, concentrations of great wealth in
the hands of a few, the emergence of great business corporations, floun-
dering "lawmaking bodies" that seemed unable to cope with party ma-
chines, demagogues and bosses, a church that seemed unable to respond to
60 Ibid., pp. 26-27. Sidney E. Mead described America's "religion of the republic" in The
Nation with the Soul of a Church (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975), pp. 65ff.
America's "civil religion" was named and outlined in Robert N. Rellah's, "Civil Religion
in America," Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World (New York:
Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970), pp. 168-89.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 131
the needs of "workingmen" — all were new problems which the university
as philosopher must solve for the sake of democracy. 61
The "problem of problems" was the future of democracy, whose ability
to last was being tested. Traditionally, pragmatic Americans sneered at
theorizing, but only as the university concentrated on the great theoretical
needs of democracy would the idea come to full flower. 62
Harper remembered that another of the key offices of leadership in Old
Testament thought was the kingly one. Ideas of kingship, however, had no
place in the democratic scheme. For proof of the historically limited
character of the kingly office he turned to Jesus. When the Messiah came "he
was no king in any sense that had been expected." The Old Testament
theocracy had dreamed of this Messiah. Prophets, priests and sages labored
to hasten "the realization of this magnificent ideal." 63
In essence Harper had carried his typological interpretation of Scripture
into the next spiral.
Now, let the dream of democracy be likewise of that expected
one; this time an expected agency which, in union with all others;
will usher in the dawn of the day when the universal brotherhood of
man will be understood and accepted by all men. Meanwhile the
universities here and there, in the New World and in the Old; the
university men who occupy high places throughout the earth; the
university spirit which, with every decade, dominates the world more
fully, will be doing the work of the prophet, the priest, and the
philosopher of democracy, and will continue to do that work until it
shall be finished, until a purified and exalted democracy shall have
become universal. 64
Harper had chosen the secular University of California's 1899 Charter
Day celebration as the moment to reveal his understanding of the religious
mission of the university. His startling combination of secular setting and
religious content on that occasion point to an identification of divine activity
with a peculiar agency which challenged both traditional religious under-
standings and emergent patterns of higher education. As biblical scholar,
Harper had penetrated the texts of the Scriptures to find the divine element
in history. As university president, he asserted that the same divine element
was at work in contemporary educational history. That he identified the
workings of God with an agency which seemed to many anti-, or at best,
non-religious reveals how far Harper's religious understandings had moved
from those of New Concord, Ohio.
George Hunston Williams's essay, "The Theological Idea of the Uni-
versity," helps locate Harper's model of the university within the context of
61 Harper, "The University and Democracy," pp. 28-32.
62 Ibid., p. 32.
63 Ibid., pp. 33-34.
132 The Bible and the University
centuries of theological thinking about the place of the university within
society. Williams did not mention Harper, but did find a distinctive "triadic
arrangement" or pattern involved in Christian thinking about the relation of
university to church and state. This triadic arrangement of society in turn
corresponded to the three-fold office of Christ: prophet, priest and king.
Beginning with the asceticism of early Christianity, Williams traced the
development of a special Eden-like place for Christians to be prepared for
"learned warfare" against corruptions in both church and state. St. Jerome's
idea of the role of the monastery thus was a precursor of the medieval notion
of university. By the thirteenth century, the university had emerged as a
distinct institution which merited recognition by Pope Gregory IX as a third
sector in the social structure of his age. A German cleric, Alexander of Roes
argued at the end of Gregorys century that the peace and order of
Christendom depended upon the harmonious working of three powers:
papacy, empire and university. 65
Williams claimed that the tripartite medieval social configuration of
church, state and university was placed on a more overtly christological basis
by John Calvin and other reformers at Geneva. There Calvin followed the
lead of Martin Bucer and explicitly developed the christological model of
prophet, priest, king as a paradigm for his new social structure. The new
Geneva configuration was church, academy and magistracy. Calvin increas-
ingly came to accentuate the role of Christ as prophet/doctor, emphasizing
the importance of the teaching office in society. 66
Williams's theological history traced the emergence of a distinct "third
force" function for the university in medieval and post-reformation life. In
his reading, the advent of the German university muted the corporate
function of the institution, making it a place where individual scholars
prepared for solitary battle for truth against error. Arguing that "an expressly
or distinctively Protestant theory of the university was never fully and
clearly enunciated in Germany or elsewhere," Williams felt that as the gap
between church and university widened, the university came to be viewed
as a secular entity, and a new institution appeared to fill the gap, the
Protestant seminary. The difference between the social places of the post-
reformation seminary and the medieval university was the seminary's
marginal relationship to the social structure, a signal of the fracture of the
tripartite model. 67
This brief detour through the main avenues of Williams's argument
allows the distinctiveness of Harper's vision for the modern university to
become more apparent. His application of a three-fold biblical model to the
65 Williams, "The Theological Idea of the University: The Paradise Theme and Related
Motifs in the History of Higher Education," Wilderness and Paradise, pp. 157—58, 66-67,
66 Ibid., pp. 187-92.
67 Ibid., pp. 196, 220.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 133
problem of relating the university to its context can be seen as continuous
with a long Christian tradition. What should be noticed is that in addition to
its more traditional prophetic role, his ideal university had taken on the
priestly role which once belonged to the church. Further, the kingly function
had dropped from view in this reconstruction. Harper's democratic reading
of the Scriptures had made the king obsolete. The wisdom of the sage who
grappled with the great problems of modern life for the sake of society had
replaced the authoritarianism of the king.
Williams's reconstruction of university history around the christological
pattern of prophet, priest and king also brings into clearer perception
Harper's attempt to resist the trend toward the marginalization of religious
learning in modernity. Harper did not seek to build secure seminaries on the
margins of America's new social structure. His university can be seen as an
attempt to continue an older tradition of viewing the university as a third
force to counteract the evils that infect both church and state. At the heart of
his attempts to reform American education was an attempt to conserve a
public religious role for the modem univerisity.
Religion in the University
Harper's model of world salvation, although expressed in terms of one
institution as the key transformer of the world, was an individualist model.
One by one, students would be lifted to the higher life as they experienced
university life. Harper, the prophet of the new type of biblical religion, was
also its priest. As university president he served as mediator, comforter and
servant of students and faculty. His personal papers ire filled with letters
which show him functioning as an unordained minister: comforting the
troubled, counseling the searching, rebuking the errant. 68
68 For example, see William Rainey Harper to Mr. Williamson, October 18, 1900, where
he writes: "I have just learned of the illness of your daughter, Miss Kate Williamson and of
the fact that it has been found necessary to take her home. I wish to express my very great
sympathy with you and her in this illness and also to express the hope that she will soon
recover" (Personal Papers, Box 5, Folder 13). On November 12, 1900, Harper requested
Mr. Gale of Snell Hall and other househeads to send him notice of serious student illness
or deaths in student families (Personal Papers, Box 5, Folder 24).
People from around the nation requested Harper's help in personal religious matters.
Lloyd W. Bowers, General Counsel of the Chicago & North- Western Railway Company,
for instance, wrote Harper on February 22, 1898, that "after a life of inattention," he desired
"to study now the religion that his wife cherished and that it will now rest with him in some
way to teach to two little children for whose Christian care she was anxious." Requesting
a course of reading, Bowers admitted that "I would give all I have for Christian
confidence. . . ." Harper responded with an invitation to discuss Bowers's religious ques-
tions over lunch (Personal Papers, Box 4, Folder 2).
Harper felt free to give advice which he himself did not always follow. Thus he urged
Mr. Thurber on June 14, 1898, to "take a bit of fatherly advice and do not work so hard. Why
do you not enjoy life and have a good time as I do? I should like to make one other
134 The Bible and the University
As religious leader of his institution, Harper had opportunity to mold the
religion implicit in his university vision. Convinced that the colleges and
universities of the land "are not performing their full function in the matter
of religious education," Harper published a series of "talks to students" in
a volume entitled Religion and the Higher Life. In his talks Harper moved
his new form of biblical religion beyond the conventional notions of his
contemporaries. He admitted that the responsibility for the religious needs
of his students "weighed upon me more heavily than any other connected
with the office which I have been called to administer." 69
These inspirational addresses revealed that Harper had rejected anthro-
pological models that forced human development into rigid categories.
Instead, he advocated the vague sounding "higher life," a notion which
steadfastly avoided any universal standard for all to meet. According to
Harper the concept had to be adjusted to each individual.
It is only the man who lives the highest life possible for him to
live, that may be said to live the higher life; the failure at any time, to
put forth his utmost endeavor — a failure of which in every case he is
unquestionably conscious — degrades him, from a higher to a lower
On the basis of this individualist understanding, Harper endeavored to aid
all forms of development. Religion had a central role to play in this
enterprise. It was "essential for the fullest development" of all other
important phases of the higher life. As the "oldest sister of the family" of art,
science, philosophy and ethics, religion did not dominate these important
areas of life; instead it integrated them and helped each to flourish. 70
Harper carefully distanced "religion" from any identification with
church. The church was "of a transitory and variable character," sometimes
taking on a particular form, sometimes passing out of sight. Unconcerned
with the passing phenomena of religious expressions, Harper sought the
essential within them. In this understanding of religion Christianity, "in its
broadest form," became "the highest and most perfect form of religion thus
far developed." 71
Religion had an intrinsicality; it was "something in itself and for itself,
fulfilling a separate role." Unique in offering "peace of soul," religion held
the various "faculties" of the human spirit in "even balance." It addressed a
person's "whole being." When normal religious development took place,
"every function of life" was strengthened. 72
suggestion. Give up drinking coffee or tea with milk in it and I will guarantee that you will
be free from all future bilious attacks." (Personal Papers, Box 4, Folder 8).
69 Harper, Religion and the Higher Life, pp. vii-viii.
70 Ibid., pp. 3-5.
71 Ibid., pp. 6-7
72 Ibid., pp. 9, 12-13.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 135
For Harper, the essence of religion was "belief in God." Beyond that
essential element one encountered countless varieties of belief and prac-
tice^ — the results of a multitude of tastes and sympathies. Such differences
were not merely "of creed, nor of forms of worship, but of standards of
morality, of external accompaniments, and of subjective ideals." Still, Harper
claimed, "there must be some things in common." Running through the
varieties of religious expression were six characteristics that seemed essen-
tial for all in search of the higher life. Modern religion, therefore, had to be:
simple, reasonable, tolerant, idealistic, ethical and consoling. As the example
of such a religion Harper cited "the religion of Jesus Christ." It was "capable
of adjustment to any and every individual, however peculiar his tempera-
ment, however exacting his demands." Indeed, it met each of the six criteria:
Its simplicity, as the Master himself presented it, is marvelous. In
its proper form, it has always stood the most rigid tests; and it appeals
as strongly to the reason as to the heart. It will permit you to respect
your friend's religion; if he is a Jew, because it came out of Judaism;
if a sincere follower of Islam, because much of Islam came from it, if
a disciple of some eastern faith because its founder, Jesus, was
broad-minded and tender, and saw truth wherever truth existed,
without reference to the name it bore. It is a religion of ideals, not
wierd and fanciful; but chastened, strong and inspiring to true service.
It is ethical in a sense peculiar to itself, for it is the religion of the
beatitudes and the Golden Rule. It is a religion that says: "Come unto
me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." 73
Harper deliberately refrained from urging any special form of this
religion upon his audience. Instead he advocated "its very essence" which
was common to all its forms. In the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament
sages, Harper found his core — "the fear of the Lord." Religion in this reading
equalled "belief in and acceptance of One who has power to help, even to
the uttermost." Moving beyond issues of creeds and denominations, he
claimed that "The dividing line runs, not between this and that form of
religious faith, but through all forms. The name is insignificant; the serious
thing is the character of your religion." Each individual had to find her
As he reasserted what he believed to be the essence of biblical religion,
Harper clearly had transformed traditional understandings of it. A career of
biblical scholarship had enabled him to penetrate layers of interpretation
and come nearer to what he considered essential religion. As a modern
biblical historian Harper had joined contemporaries like Julius Wellhausen
in tracing the development of biblical religion through three distinct phases
which seemed to set the terms for the emergence of the new understanding
he was advocating. In Israel's earliest phase worship had been the main
73 Ibid., pp. 15-20.
136 The Bible and the University
religious activity of priests who focused their followers' attention on proper
ritualistic actions. Belief, the main emphasis of the second phase, became
the dominant concern of the Hebrew prophets, whose passion for proper
religous ideas ruled religion for the next cluster of centuries. Part of the
heritage of this prophetic emphasis on belief was fragmentation of Judaism
and Christianity into a multitude of sects and denominations. Although they
played marginal roles in their own times, Old Testament sages proleptically
introduced the element of ethics which finally came to prominence in
modern religious expression. In this third phase belief lost its central
religious role. "A man's life, at least in civilized countries, is not dependent
upon his theological belief, as it once was." Instead, in Harper's era, greater
emphasis was being placed on conduct. Once again, Harper used the
particular history of Israel to encompass the universal human story. Israel
had experienced the progression of religious concern from worship to belief
to behavior. The religious evolution of the Hebrew people from priestly to
prophetic to sagely styles was similar, he believed, to the general historical
development of religion. Israel's experience with these religious stages of
development was "essentially their history everywhere." 75
For any human life to be complete, for any human to develop to her
highest potential, all three of these stages had to be experienced. Harper
encouraged listeners to "study yourself." Symmetrical development was the
goal. "The day of special priesthood is past — everybody must be his own
priest; the day of special prophetism is past — everyone must be a prophet;
the day of specialism in morality has never existed and will never come." If
a student's religious growth was lopsided the weak area should be cultivated
and developed. The exemplar for any student to follow was Jesus — "the best
representative of this religious spirit." Careful study of Jesus' life and
teachings would provide the pattern by which to assess religious develop-
ment. But while he clearly gave Jesus a pivotal role in his new understand-
ing of religion, Harper also was careful to note the distance between
Christianity and its founder. Christianity had "almost forgotten that there
was a Christ, or, perhaps more accurately, had so changed him that he could
no longer be recognized as Christ." The "glory" of late nineteenth-century
thought was its restoration of the Christ "who had been forgotten or
Arguing that the Bible was necessary for genuine religious development
because of its teachings about worship, belief and ethics, Harper based his
claim upon the uniqueness of Jesus.
In order that the world might have such perfect illustration of it
(the religious life), and illustration which all men might see and study,
and by which humanity might be lifted to a still higher plane than that
75 Harper, "The Religious Spirit," ibid., pp. 22-29.
76 Ibid., pp. 31-35.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 137
which it had reached through the divine help already furnished in
other ways, Jesus Christ was born, and therefore he lived and taught
and died. His attitude of reverence and homage toward God, in its
simplicity and sublimity, in its irrepressible aspiration was the perfect
presentation of the true worship, in itself, and in its relation to the
other factors which constitute the religious experience. His teaching
concerning God as Father of the world, of humanity as a single,
closely related family, every member of which had responsibility for
every other member, his teaching of the kingdom of heaven, and the
ideal social life in which justice and peace shall reign, constitute a
creed from which nothing may be subtracted; while the making of
additions to it, as history has shown, leads surely to confusion and
controversy. His life, in the perfection of its purity, in the pathos of its
self-sacrifice, in the loftiness of its unselfish achievement, has fur-
nished the world principles which underlie and control all right
The pattern set by Jesus thus became the norm by which all religious
experience could be tested. But in the process of making him the normative
exemplar for all religions, Harper refrained from including many traditional
teachings about him, an omission which would make it impossible for all to
follow his type of Jesus. 77
Throughout his career Harper labored on two of the three fronts he
identified as crucial for religious development, beliefs and ethics. Certain
that worship had received ample attention, Harper initially concentrated his
reformation on biblical interpretation, intent upon clearing away the debris
of inadequate beliefs that blocked access to the message of the Scriptures.
He followed the spirit of modern scholarship and asserted that one had "to
go to the original sources" for correct information. "The one source, the only
source, as well as the original source, for help ... is the Bible." 78
Harper also sought to develop an academic ethic that retrieved the
concerns of the sages and reiterated the fundamental idea of the Scriptures:
suffering for others. When true to their vocations both college and university
had an overarching religious purpose: to teach one to suffer. The messianic
responsibility of the university was to suffer for society. In so doing it also
equipped individual members of society for personal encounters with
In a talk on "Fellowship and Its Obligation — Service," Harper sounded
simultaneously modern and biblical. He began by noting that the "worlds
we live in grow in number and in size as life proceeds." Consistent with his
own experience he pointed out that one never left behind the old worlds of
his or her past but that new ones were continually "super-added." 79
Speaking in a manner which seemed to echo his Chautauqua mentor
77 Harper, "Bible Study and Religious Life," ibid., pp. 161-62.
78 Ibid., p. 163.
79 Harper, "Fellowship and Its Obligation — Service," ibid., p. 36.
138 The Bible and the University
John Vincent, Harper asserted that the "college world" merited special
attention because it served as "a kind of epitome" of the "great world."
Within that special world the student met, in compressed form, all of life's
temptations, struggles, successes, failures, ambitions, and despairs. In addi-
tion, collegians encountered in that distinctive context a "world-fellowship"
which embraced all humans. Harper likened this encounter to a second
birth, in which individuals were transformed and prepared to sustain "a
peculiar relation to the world" and to occupy "a peculiar place in its
fellowship." Individuals initiated into the higher or larger life of the college
world had a special burden or responsibility of acting as parent or instructor
to those still living the first type of life in smaller worlds of family and
The higher life was arduous:
With every increase of knowledge there is an increase of the
capacity for sorrow. To the unthinking mind the man of wealth, living
in his mansion, is an object of envy. If the real facts were known the
life of such a one would be found in many cases, to be a life of care and
responsibility, for which the satisfaction of physical life is no fair
Harper was advocating an academic version of noblesse oblige. The person
of privilege had to use opportunities "for the advantage of others." An
obligation went with college life — "one of service." The service was "hard
and rigorous," "continuous and never ending." In "one form or other"
Harper's educational elite were invited to become modern ascetics who
"give to others everything that has been given to you." Harper labored to
equip the strong for service in order that they might equip the weak. 81
For Harper "service" was more than altruism. He translated what he
believed was the most fundamental idea in the Old Testament into a code of
ethics for college educated individuals. Even his cherished academic prin-
ciple of individualism had to give way to the servant ethos he advocated.
"The world today needs more of the spirit of voluntary sacrifice and less of
that spirit, called independence, which is in essence real selfishness." To
move his student listeners beyond such self-centeredness, Harper once
again turned to biblical themes, claiming that the kind of service he
described was "the real essence, not only of true manhood, but of divinity
itself." Harper challenged underlying theological beliefs which would
hinder the development of the servant style. The image of God as royal
taskmaster seated upon a high throne had to be seen as "a thing of the past."
We now think of him as actually existing in every human being,
and as working out through man in all the multiformity of man's
80 Ibid., pp. 39-43.
81 Ibid., pp. 46-50.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 139
activity. God himself is the great servant of humanity; and in the ideal
man, Jesus, this spirit of service found its highest example.
Harper challenged his listeners to let the great servant work within
them. He called for commitment: "Will you consecrate your body, your
mind, and your heart to the cause of humanity? Or will you be a miser . . . ?"
In this spirit of sacrifice, Harper recognized the same spirit that had been at
work in university life for ten centuries. This spirit was also, he believed, the
spirit of "the true church." 82
Harper further developed the theme of suffering in his talk "Trials of
Life." No life escaped suffering, which was both a universal fact of life and
the place for encountering God. The proper posture for the human who
encountered suffering was reverence and resignation. Human struggle,
if it is a struggle, is with God himself. Face to face as with an enemy;
face to face as with the closest friend, and face to face as standing in
the very presence of God, one must meet the sorrows and disappoint-
ments, the pains and the suffering of life. 83
Harper encouraged students to "begin at once to suffer." If they had not
experienced life's darker side they should "try to find a disappointment." By
participation in someone else's vexing situation, the college student pre-
pared for the inevitable future encounter. To complete this unusual form of
college preparation, students needed to "hold relationship with that unique
character in the world's history who suffered as no man ever suffered before
or since." Jesus' "sympathy with a suffering humanity was so great that only
God himself could have experienced and expressed it." From his suffering
came "light and life to all who will accept them." For Harper suffering, from
the earliest days of Israel through the life of Jesus and into the lives of
modern college people, was the locus for humans to encounter the vision of
How easy it is for us, in these days, to have this sight, this vision
of God! It was for this purpose that Jesus came to men, from God the
Father, to represent him as only he could be present to humanity.
This above all things else, was his mission to make God known to
man; Jesus, the brother, through whom the Father might be revealed
to those who also were brothers. To see Jesus is to have had a sight of
The ethic of suffering was also Harper's personal code. Just as Jesus was
brother to humanity so Harper saw himself as older brother to his college
students. The powerful position of university president became in his
perception primarily an office of suffering. The extent of Harper's suffering
can be seen in private admissions that he had made a tragic mistake in
82 Ibid., pp. 53-56.
83 Harper, "The Trials of Life," ibid., pp. 58-65.
84 Ibid., pp. 66-68.
140 The Bible and the University
assuming the presidency of the university and forsaking his scholarly career.
On less dark days he viewed his office as "an office of service."
In 1904 Harper collected his thoughts on "The College President."
Smarting under accusations that one had to be "mad" to assume such an
office, he recited the usual epithets hurled at presidents. The list included
"boss," prevaricator, naysayer, despot, czar. Such labels obscured the true
picture of presidential life. 85 To counter the bad press given to his colleagues
in college administration, Harper reapplied the themes of vicarious suffering
to his own vocation. "In no other profession, not even in that of the minister
of the Gospel, is vicarious suffering more common." Harper felt that in
reality presidents were "slaves" of their environments, whose work was
surrounded by the feeling of "great loneliness." As years of tenure passed,
incumbents came to regard their feelings of separation and isolation as a
permanent part of the calling. 86
Presidents were also frequently victims of persecution through misrep-
resentation, some of it "malicious." Occasionally they experienced "times of
great depression" when faced by the enormity of the task. These misunder-
stood leaders became "sick at heart," and knew the feeling of "utter
dissatisfaction" with their own work. Because of the complex character of
these institutions, each college president had to stand back and watch others
do the things "which in his heart he would desire to handle." Never
permitted "to finish a piece of work," presidents became masters of the "art
of letting others do things." The one thing that compensated for these and
other presidential burdens was the "close association with life confessedly
higher and more ideal than ordinary life." 87
Between Harper's lines the frustration of the biblical scholar who
suffered for the sake of others is visible. Harper seized his ideal of vicarious
suffering from the biblical material. In his vision for the modern university,
that ideal shaped the sacred calling of the institution as it suffered for society
and world. It also determined the university ethos Harper wished to pass on
to students as they were shaped religiously in their academic experience. It
was also the personal code of the first President of the University of Chicago.
85 Harper revealed his second thoughts about his decision to accept the presidency of the
University of Chicago in a letter to Mr. Lincoln Hulley, on September 5, 1895. He
counselled Hulley not to accept the presidency of Colby University, arguing that "I think
you are too young in your scholarly career to assume such a handicap as the presidency of
an institution. I am confident that every man who enters upon administrative work at an
early age, diminishes immensely his probable usefulness in life. I know that I have made
a mistake and hardly a day passes that I do not feel it" (Personal Papers, Box 2, Folder 17).
The speech "The College President," is in The William Rainey Harper Memorial
Conference, Robert N. Montgomery, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938), pp.
86 Ibid., pp. 29-30.
87 Ibid., pp. 30-32.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 141
The American Age
To complete the picture of Harper's religious vision for the university, it
is necessary to ask what he believed about the American setting for his
educational labors. In "America as a Missionary Field," Harper revealed a
religious understanding of his nation that simultaneously participated in and
transcended the "manifest destiny" ideology of his age. Harper believed that
he could trace the world's history through three periods of twenty centuries
each. The Old Testament patriarch Abraham served as benchmark ending
the Babylonian epoch, Jesus marked the end of the Syrian, and the coming
of age of America would end the English period. After following the progress
of civilization westward from Babylon to America, Harper looked forward in
a postmillennial manner to a fourth era of twenty centuries dominated by the
Harper believed that the nineteen centuries following the birth of Christ
had been shaped by "piecemeal" demonstrations of Christianity's "better,
truer knowledge" of God and humanity. Although articulated relatively
clearly in the New Testament this new knowledge had "not yet received . . .
perfect demonstration in human history." Nineteenth century America was
"the arena" in which Christianity's superior ideas would receive their "great
Here in this great country, provided by God himself with all the
facilities needed, preserved in large measure by God himself from the
burdens and trammels of dead institutions and deadly traditions, the
consummation of Christian life and thought will be realized. This is
the message written on every page of our nineteen centuries of
All of Harper's efforts came together in his vision of America's religious
role. Sounding like a prophet on the watchtower, Harper rejoiced in "the
days that are coming" which would surpass any "except that one day which
saw God take the form of man, the day which saw him live as man, and die
as man, and rise again as God." America was destined to be the scene of
divine action. The main lesson learned from the Old Testament received a
twentieth-century application: "God is in the world as of old." 90
America was the chosen nation in which all of Harper's other visions
would come to fruition. The new Christianity he anticipated "will have no
room for ignorance. Education will be its watchword." In spite of previous
cautions about adding on to the messages of Jesus, Harper built on to the
traditional Christian dispensation. What the world needed and what he had
labored to provide were "the gospel and education." In Harper's eyes "the
88 William Rainey Harper, "America as a Missionary Field," Religion and the Higher Life,
89 Ibid., pp. 177-79.
142 The Bible and the University
gospel, as it is commonly understood ... is not sufficient." To be sure it
contained within itself "the elements" which could "incite" to education.
But more attention had to be given to developing those elements. In light of
this grand view Harper's efforts at biblical and educational reform can be
seen as distinct but essentially related elements in an overarching evangel-
ical endeavor. The distinctive feature in Harper's version of the nineteenth-
century evangelical imperative was that "education will constitute a larger
part of the work of evangelization than in the past, both at home and abroad."
Clearly, for Harper, education was missionary work. 91
The call to educate previously overlooked native Americans and black
people, or to grapple with the problems of the city was a "call from heaven."
America was to be another Palestine, a laboratory for God's ongoing exper-
iment. It could become a place where people of different nationalities could
mix and commingle. If the world was to be evangelized, Harper believed
"America must do it." Evangelization took place when America responded
to the "call to equip all our academies and colleges and theological semi-
naries, and to see to it that the instruction given in these institutions bears
upon its face the mark of truth; has its roots in the established principles of
the faith." In one sentence he had summarized his life's work. It was time for
humanity to move out of Kindergarten and to learn mature lessons of divine
love. The "great Teacher" may have been patient but Harper could not hold
his own impatience in check as he looked forward to the time when "Jesus
the Christ will come to reign in the hearts of men." The educational work
which would make this vision a reality depended on America, "the training-
school for teachers." 92
The Biblical Integrator
Harper's biblically-based university-nurtured understanding of religion
was one of a variety of religious options which were presented to modern
Americans. Many, indeed most, Americans continued to cling to traditional
models of religious belief and behavior. Others, like Harper, sought to
mediate between traditional religious understandings and the new environ-
ment. A few turned to new sources for their religious authority. And some,
like William Graham Sumner, put religious concerns away in one of the
infrequentiy searched drawers of the mind, where they would remain
ignored and harmless.
To better locate Harper's understanding of the nature of religion, it is
helpful to compare his vision with alternatives posed by three of America's
most important religious thinkers who sought to respond to the modern
context in quite different ways. William James (1842-1910), John Dewey
(1859-1952) and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) were contemporaries
91 Ibid., pp. 180-81.
92 Ibid., pp. 181-84.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 143
of Harper. Although two of them lived and published long after Harper's
death in 1906, all three of them were part of a cohort who passed through the
tumultuous religious changes of the late nineteenth century. Like Harper,
they sought to respond to religious and social pluralism, and the impact of
scientific and historical knowledge, with new inclusive understandings of
religion. Unlike him, they turned away from scriptural data to new sources of
religious knowledge. Further, all three rejected specialized religious insti-
tutions as the primary mediators of religious nurture and development.
Perhaps the clearest contrast can be seen in the radical empiricism of
William James. In 1902 James published his classic series of Gifford
Lectures, The Varieties of Religious Experience. The book's title indicated
his decisive move. James turned to religious experience as his primary
source. Adopting a psychological approach, he decided to place himself on
the personal side of the "great partition" between institutional and personal
religion. Believing that personal religion was "more fundamental'' than the
institutional varieties which merely recycled experiences of founders into
less interesting secondhand commodities, James proposed "to ignore the
institutional branch entirely." Personal feelings and conduct, on the other
hand, comprised the "short circuit," the irreducible minimum of religion,
out of which
she carries on her principal business, while the ideas and symbols
and other institutions form loop-lines which may be perfections and
improvements, and may even some day all be united into one
harmonious system, but which are not to be regarded as organs with
an indispensable function, necessary at all times for religious life to go
James's "experiential point of view" led to a redefinition of religion as
consisting of "feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their
solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever
they may consider the divine." The result was a pluralistic understanding of
religion. The "breadth of the apperceiving mass" of human religious phe-
nomena meant that "religion cannot stand for any single principle or
essence, but is rather a collective name." 94
Things became "more or less divine" and boundaries became "misty"
as James developed what he called a "piecemeal supernaturalism." As the
psychologist/philosopher probed human consciousness, he found at its core
"a sense of reality" — that there was "something there." This undifferentiated
"More" became the center of his religious understanding. The fact that in
the human subconsciousness one could find the evidence for more in life
than the individual could be aware of became the ground for "building out"
93 William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New
York: The New American Library of World Literature, Inc. 1958), pp. 22, 40-42, 381.
94 Ibid., pp. 44, 42, 38-^39.
144 The Bible and the University
a religious understanding. The core "psychological fact" of the subconscious
became the mediating discovery which connected humans to an inclusive
more. James had turned to the "hither" rather than the "farther" side of the
more. He built his religious understanding on the basis of an analogical
understanding of human consciousness. 95
Alfred North Whitehead delivered his pivotal set of lectures — which
were subsequently published as Religion in the Making — shortly after his
arrival in America in 1924 to become professor of philosophy at Harvard. The
63-year-old philosopher made a turn similar to that of James when he argued
that religion "is what the individual does with his own solitariness." But
when he penetrated to the basic structure of the universe, Whitehead
discovered an evolutionary process which linked various religious manifes-
The religious idea emerged gradually into human life, at first
barely disengaged from other human interests. The order of the
emergence of these factors was in the inverse order of the depth of
their religious importance: first ritual, then emotion, then belief, then
"Rational religion" was the Whiteheadian candidate for the modern age.
The components of earlier forms of religion were "reorganized with the aim
of making it the central element in a coherent ordering of life." If the result
of rationalization was a "very low temperature" form of religion in compar-
ison with earlier instances, Whitehead nonetheless advanced this form as
adequate to account for several important religious facts. There was, he
claimed, "no consensus" about God. People did not have verifiable direct
visions of a personal God; rather, they had intuitions, which were, in fact,
"private psychological habits." The belief in God was an inference drawn
from the data of religious experience. A different ground, however, could be
found for building an understanding of religion. There was, Whitehead
claimed, a "large consensus" in favor of "the concept of a lightness in
things." This "general character inherent in the nature of things" became the
"ultimate religious evidence." There was no question that individuals had
religious experiences, and these were expressions of a human "longing for
justification" which was addressed in the "direct apprehension" of a basic
rightness in the character of what is. 97
James had found his evidence for the "More" in the human subcon-
scious. Whitehead found evidence for "God" in the "epochal occasions"
where one encounters a "concretion" of both the "boundless wealth of
possibility" and a "non-temporal actuality." In the multiformity of nature
95 Ibid., pp. 47, 392, 61, 384, 388, 386.
96 Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: New American Library,
1974), pp. 16, 18.
97 Ibid., pp. 30, 52, 64-65, 61, 63, 83-84.
The University and the Religion of Democracy 145
and history, Whitehead discovered a "binding element": God. The core
religious insight that he discovered as he viewed the world as a whole was
the perception of infinite possibility bound together by an ideal harmony.
God was the "one systematic, complete fact" present in the "primary actual
units" of human experience, the epochal occasions. Each such occasion was
a microcosm "representing in itself the entire all inclusive universe."
Whitehead's process-shaped Platonism rested on a "final principle of reli-
gion." There was "a wisdom in the nature of things." 98
Educator-philosopher John Dewey advocated a "natural piety" that had
some similarities to Whitehead's rational religion. In the Terry Lectures,
which were published as A Common Faith in 1934, he sought to "wipe the
(religious) slate clean." Like Harper he wanted to allow the "basically
religious" to express itself without the encumbrances of traditional religions.
What was necessary was a "dislocation of the religious" from religions. The
religious became "a comprehensive attitude" or perspective. It was "moral-
ity touched by emotion" and "supported by ends so inclusive that they unify
the self." 99
For Dewey there was "one sure road" to religious truth — inquiry. The
cherished idea that there were special "religious" truths which were not
susceptible to investigation and ordinary ways of knowing had to be
surrendered. He posed a "method of intelligence" which was open and
public in place of the "doctrinal method" which was limited and private.
Sounding very much like Whitehead, Dewey described God as the "active
relation between the ideal and the actual." When one had a sense of the
connection between the human and the world, one was participating in a
natural piety. 100
The current situation in which religion was confined to specialized
institutions within "secular" society, according to Dewey, was an innova-
tion. There had been a "change in the social center of gravity in religion."
The modern alteration in the social place and the function of religion had
been the "greatest change that has occurred in religion in all history." 101
In place of the sacred/secular division of reality posited by supernatu-
ralists, Dewey offered a relational unity. Wherever one perceived the
"mysterious totality of being," there one was religious. The old "doubleness
of mind" of the supernaturalists was unnecessary once the relations between
things were discerned through the exercise of "passionate intelligence."
The sectarian religions of his age allowed the religious to be crowded into a
corner. With his natural variety of piety, Dewey hoped to make such
98 Ibid., pp. 88-91, 152, 148, 137-38.
99 John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934), pp. 25, 6, 15,
100 Ibid., pp. 32-33, 39, 51-53.
101 Ibid., pp. 60-61.
146 The Bible and the University
sectarian religion "catholic" again. 102
This brief overview of the religious understandings of three of the most
important philosophers in the American tradition cannot pretend to do
justice to the fullness and richness of their thought. But it does provide a
historical context for Harper's understanding of religion. Together with
these philosophers of religion, Harper shared a passion for facts, concrete-
ness, naturalness. His biblical exegesis had been an effort to uncover the
historical facts underneath the accretions of traditions. Just as Whitehead had
sought to penetrate to the essential nature of things beneath numerous
epochal occasions, so Harper sought to penetrate to the essential reality of
the religion of Israel beneath the variety of interpretations and historical
understandings which surrounded it. Harper and Whitehead shared evolu-
tionary perspectives which allowed them to celebrate religious develop-
ment and to argue for movement from lower to higher forms. With William
James, Harper was responsive to the reality of religious experience and
wanted to know more about it. Like Dewey, Harper was interested in an
approach to religion which was public and all-embracing.
Harper's distinctiveness is clear in his tenacious advocacy of biblical
study as the best avenue to religious truth. While James, Whitehead and
Dewey all knew the biblical traditions, they decisively turned away from
that sacred book to follow other avenues of religious truth. There can be no
doubt that Harper sought to be open to the new sources of knowledge which
these contemporaries celebrated — self, nature, history. But he still found the
Scriptures to be uniquely paradigmatic, inspirational and integrative.
A second distinctive feature in Harper's religious construction was his
attempt to find a new mediating institution for religious knowledge. By
bringing together people and the new knowledge, his messianic university
would fill the gap created by sectarian denominations and compartmental-
ized local churches. With his three contemporaries, Harper shared a dissat-
isfaction with current institutional expressions of religion. Unlike them, he
strove to create a new institution which could carry on the special task of
fostering religious growth.
102 Ibid., pp. 66, 85, 69-70, 79, 82-83.
ASSESSING A VISION
In 1970, Morris Philipson, Director of the University of Chicago Press,
published a Foreword for a pamphlet containing a reprint of Harper's essay,
"The University and Democracy." Seventy-one years after Harper had first
revealed his vision for the American university, Philipson searched for what
could be salvaged from the "shambles" of Harper's idealistic oratory. He
Wanted to assist a new generation of readers to discern the difference
between a ruin and a relic.
The rhetoric has decayed and tumbled down; the style of
expression is a ruin. Not all ruins are worthy of respect. But a relic is
a ruin that is honored, not because it can still "work," but because it
is the remains of something that was intrinsically good or beautiful or
true. As a relic it can still evoke some degree of the intended original
response, although our intelligence and imagination are required to
flesh in what is missing. President Harper's speech is a relic of tightly
reasoned American inspirationalism at the end of the nineteenth
The tone of Philipson's Foreword is that of the wistful custodian of a sacred
shrine. Perhaps, if one could draw people toward the holy relic, some spark
of the old life might be rekindled in a new generation.
There was warrant for Philipson's harsh-sounding "shambles." Within a
few years of Harper's death, his vision had broken apart. The University
Congregation, Harper's attempt to make a community out of the varied
academic disciplines, faded into obsolescence by 1909. The hoped-for
national university, a would-be capstone for the complete system Harper
proposed for American education, did not develop beyond the private
musings of a handful of educational magnates. Ambitious plans for a
complete system of affiliated institutions were abandoned.
Some of the key components of Harper's plan survived much longer, but
not without significant shifts in direction and purpose. Although it still
1 Morris Philipson, "On the Difference Between a Ruin and a Relic," in William Rainey
Harper The University and Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1970), pp. vii-x.
I am grateful to Professor J. Ronald Engel of Meadville/Lombard Seminary, Chicago,
Illinois, for calling this Foreword to my attention.
148 The Bible and the University
survives, the Religious Education Association, for example, Harper's last and
most far-reaching attempt to consolidate all religious education in America
under the umbrella of one coordinating institution, proved unable to resist
the pressures of specialization and professionalism. As Stephen Schmidt's
recent study of the Association suggests, during the post-Harper years the
Association experienced a narrowing of its horizon from its initial general
public concerns to those of the emerging profession of religious educators. 2
Harper's beloved American Institute of Sacred Literature lasted until the
mid-1940s when its Director, Sidney E. Mead, mercifully allowed the
comatose organization to die. The Sunday school, a key institution in
Harper's efforts to reach the American Christian community, could not live
up to his ambitious proposals and slipped into a second-class role which
challenged few to think critically about the Scriptures. Biblical criticism,
instead of serving as the new integrating force in American religion, became
an enduring source of conflict for Christians who wanted to trust the Sacred
Scriptures. The Bible movement in higher education succeeded in gaining
limited curricular space for scriptural study but lost its missionary and
integrative character. Instead of becoming America's public book, the
Scriptures became increasingly marginal to the nation's public life. Congre-
gations, seminaries, divinity schools and religion departments continued to
search them, but usually at a distance from the more public realms of
commercial and civic life. As Americans became more aware of their
pluralism they became more wary of public instruction about the Scriptures
and more willing to keep silent about them.
Does something remain of the vision which originated in small-town
circumstances and developed to its most mature statement in the occasional
writings of a president en the run? While an occasional Harper story told in
the halls of his own university may carry a vague intimation of a once
compelling vision, the overriding impression is that his fundamental ideas
and purposes have been relegated — either intentionally or simply by erosion
of memory — to the ruins of American religious and intellectual history.
Before attempting to pose an alternative to the ruin or relic question, it
is necessary to confront contemporaries of Harper who found little in his
career except ruin. Three of his most outspoken critics, Robert Welch
Herrick, Upton Sinclair and Thorstein Veblen, each described Harper as
woefully deficient in one fundamental area; in their judgment he lacked a
vision that could constructively shape American intellectual and cultural
life. Through caricature, satire, muckraking and impassioned argument, they
exposed what they believed to be the essential flaws in the person and work
of William Rainey Harper. Their criticisms are clearly colored by their own
alienation from American religious, intellectual and cultural life. Each of
2 Stephen A. Schmidt, A History of the Religious Education Association, (Birmingham:
Religious Publication Press, 1982).
Assessing A Vision 149
these critics had alternative futures in mind for American education from the
one offered in "The Official Bulletins" or The Biblical World. Notwithstand-
ing the prejudices of their aversion toward religion and animosity toward
late nineteenth-century American cultural elites, their responses provide a
more complete picture of what was at stake in the era the three shared with
The Big Barnum of Eureka University
One of the most fascinating portraits of the University of Chicago's first
president was offered by an English professor hired by Harper in the
institution's early days. Robert Welch Herrick came to the university in 1893
to organize and administer the composition and rhetoric program. Herrick's
impressions of Harper's role in the founding of the university simmered in
the professor's consciousness for more than thirty years before he published
an account of them. In 1926 the novel Chimes appeared, a roman a clef about
a young dramatist (Herrick) who joined the new Eureka University in the
west. There the protagonist suffered disillusionment as he experienced the
failure of the institution and its inhabitants to meet his high ideals for
university education. The thinly disguised characters reveal Harper, Herrick
and many of the earliest members of the university faculty. 3
Chimes' opening sentences revealed the chasm between Herrick's
ideals and the reality of Harper's new creation. "The new university! ... A
river of yellow prairie mud lay between the young man and the flat campus
dotted with a half dozen stone buildings, some still unfinished.'' Dr. Alonzo
Harris (Harper), Eureka's president, struck Beaman Clavercin (Herrick) as a
"new meteor in the University world." Recalling his initial interview with
the president who had lured him from Harvard to the mud of Chicago, the
young professor noted several telling shabby details:
President Harris's shoes had not been shined for days and
showed traces of campus mud. They were of soft leather with elastic
sides, a kind of shoes one should not wear outside his bedroom. Also,
his trousers were too short, with curling frayed bottoms, and they
bagged at the chubby knees. His new black frock coat was plentifully
sprinkled with dust and dandruff, and down the black ministerial
waistcoat there was a visible stain, possibly from coffee drip. . . .
Later, Clavercin attended a trustee dinner which afforded another memora-
ble portrait of the president.
Short, thick, with the round face of a gnome beneath the gold
tasseled flat cap, his mussed silk gown swelling comically about his
bulky body, the President of Eureka University was in total contrast
with the stately figure that in Clavercin's experience embodied
3 Robert Herrick, Chimes (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926).
150 The Bible and the University
Herrick placed his initial impressions of Harper in the mind of Clavercin, his
fictional counterpart. Harris lacked social graces; the polish of the academic
statesman which Herrick had become accustomed to in New England was
sadly absent at Eureka. The first presidential speech Clavercin heard was so
impassioned in its delivery and so unusual in its content that it made him
uncomfortable. He had, he felt, encountered a "new religion." 4
Clavercin seemed unable to recover from the encounter with the
crudities of Eureka and its first president. The institution was ugly, and the
demeanor of President Harris verged on the ludicrous. Especially unseemly
were Harris' notorious early morning bicycle rides. Zealously bent over the
handlebars, he cut a "grotesque" figure peddling alongside faculty members
before breakfast to "get in touch" with them. After sharing such a presiden-
tial spin around the campus Clavercin pronounced Harris a "big Barnum"
caught up in the "comic process of growth." 5
More than presidential rough edges troubled Herrick's protagonist,
however. The university was mimicking the "factory process" of the busi-
ness world. "Standardization" and the forces of "system" were at odds with
his ideal for university education. Clavercin mourned over what he encoun-
tered among his colleagues at the faculty club.
With the increasing degree of specialization they were cut off
from each other in little provinces of thought and interest; knowledge
had become an archipelago of small islands instead of a single
University life became oppressive for this exile from the Ivy League. On the
one hand examinations and other teaching duties seemed purposeless. On
the other, students wasted themselves in activities like athletics and frater-
nities. Innovations such as the business school, or school of journalism
seemed to be "meretricious devices" for raising funds for an empty dream.
Herrick surveyed his colleagues and concluded that
each felt that in some way he had been trapped by an illusion, when
he had entered what Clavercin called "the pleasant walls of Aca-
deme," a dream of something that did not exist in America or if it had
once existed faintly in the older colleges of the East had been choked
by the rapid growth of national wealth.
"Look at our master!" (a colleague) cried, pointing to the flaming
smokestacks of the steel city. 6
Clavercin's disillusionment did not prevent him from an occasional
expression of sympathy for President Harris. Noting that a phalanx of
intermediaries came to separate the president from the university's founder,
4 Ibid., pp. 1-4, 16-17.
5 Ibid., pp. 40, 44.
6 Ibid., pp. 64-72, 104-5.
Assessing A Vision 151
the disillusioned professor observed that "somehow Aladdin had lost his
magic touch." It was clear that the president's burden grew as his patience
He could not wait on time. What it had taken centuries and many
generations of men heretofore to accomplish, slow accretion of a shell,
must grow beneath his touch in a few short years. His dream was
pressing him, and something already whispered to his spirit that he
might not live to see the Plan wholly inked in, with buildings roofed
and pinnacles boldly soaring into the sky. . . .
The dramatist believed that Harris was aware of the discontent, grum-
bling and doubt among his faculty colleagues. Pressure mounted for the
beleaguered administrator to produce some fresh miracle. 7
There was more than the president's tragic illness to darken Herrick's
narrative. A "spiritual canker" gnawed at the root of the entire enterprise.
Ironically, as Harris labored to salvage his dream in the face of personal
illness and the recalcitrance of the university founder, he grew in both
author's and protagonist's estimation.
The last spurt of life in him must be spent in redeeming his
pledges, fulfilling all the promises he had so prodigally made in his
buoyant days, assuring so far as he could the lives of those whom he
had persuaded or permitted to attach themselves to his dream.
Occasionally Clavercin caught a glimpse of a valiant president. In those
moments Harris seemed "another kind of being," transformed by his
suffering for others. There was a "dignity, a grandeur about him that
Clavercin had never suspected all these years." The final image Herrick
offered of Harper was emblematic. The president died in his swivel chair
behind his desk, at work. 8
In his novel Herrick developed the character of Clavercin many years
beyond those of Harris's presidency. Following the outbreak of World War
I, Clavercin returned from Europe with a new understanding of the univer-
sity and his place within it. For the first time he grasped "the meaning of the
It was, it should be, the home of the human spirit, removed from
the merely passing, the fluid, the accidental, the one withdrawn place
of modern life where all the manifestations of humanity could be
gathered in essence — and handed on! The enduring, the significant
thing was — the Idea, the university itself! Men made universities as
once they made great temples, blindly, not conceiving the ultimate
ends to which they would be devoted, out of some inner necessity of
their spirits, as Harris, that great-hearted combination of prairie boy
7 Ibid., pp. 12&-31.
8 Ibid., pp. 137, 152-56.
152 The Bible and the University
and prophet, had built Eureka. Temples! Caravansaries of the human
spirit — that was what universities were. 9
Room must be made for the license of a novelist to develop his
characters. Yet the similarities between the worlds of Herrick's novel and
Harper's reality are striking. After learning of his terminal condition, Harper
did engage in a frantic effort, largely successful, to place the university and
his many other enterprises on solid financial footing. The morning bicycle
rides, the lines in the office to see him, the red morocco leather notebooks,
are authentic details which the novelist felt no need to mask or omit. But
these interesting details cannot hide the character development of the
protagonist, Clavercin, who was, after all, Herrick. The young, disillusioned
Harvard graduate, so disenchanted with the vulgarities and the new religion
he encountered in Chicago, became an advocate of part of the vision which
Harper proclaimed in his speech on the university and democracy. In
retrospect, Herrick affirmed that the university was a temple, and Harper
was, above all, its prophet.
"Education F.O.B. Chicago"
The transition from Herrick the storyteller, to Upton Sinclair, the
alienated systems analyst, is almost a quantum leap. Herrick knew the
Chicago story from the inside; Sinclair never served on the faculty of the
university. Herrick occasionally commented upon the American educational
situation in general, but for the most part confined his attention to the
particular plot of his novel. Sinclair, on the other hand, indicted the whole
American educational configuration. His book The Goose-Step is a savage
tour deforce which found nothing to praise in higher education in America.
He aired all of higher education's dirty linen in the hope that reform would
According to Sinclair, the fundamental problem with American univer-
sity education was an "interlocking directorate" chaired by J. P. Morgan, Sr.
Sinclair believed that together with the Rockefellers, the Pillsburys, the
Stanfords, and the Mellons, plutocrats like Morgan either directly or indi-
rectly controlled all of the educational institutions of the land. In this
vituperative polemic the National Education Association, which at that time
was dominated by Nicholas Murray Buder, the university president who
fared worst at Sinclair's hands, became the "Tammany Hall of Education."
By means of his shrill expose, Sinclair intended to oppose what he perceived
to be a well-oiled machine which held the educational life of the nation in a
9 Ibid., p. 168.
10 Upton Sinclair, The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education, rev. ed. (Pasadena:
Upton Sinclair, 1923).
Assessing A Vision 153
strangle-hold. The sad result of such a system was that it produced over-
whelming dullness. 11
As Sinclair took his readers on a verbal tour of the nation's campuses he
told the "truth" about Wilson of Princeton, morality at Yale, and the study of
the "classics" in California ("the annual Stanford-California foot-ball game,
and the intercollegiate track meet, and the Pacific Coast Tennis doubles").
Never relenting, he exposed an "academic pogrom" being waged against
Jews. Next, he turned to alumni, traditionally one of the most privileged
university constituencies, who became "a semi-simian mob" in his version
of the story. But, his basic concern remained with an entire educational
structure dominated by a "psychology of submission" orchestrated by the
tycoons of Wall Street. 12
In the fiftieth chapter of his book, Sinclair focused attention on the
University of Chicago. The muckraker began with a description of Harper:
an educator — one of these typical American combinations of financial
shrewdness and moral fervor, a veritable wizard of a money-getter, a
"vamp" in trousers, a grand, impressive, inspirational Chautauqua
John D. Rockefeller did not fare any better at Sinclair's hands. The oil
magnate had a "pathetic trust in education, as something you could buy
ready-made for cash." It never occurred to Rockefeller, Sinclair claimed, that
he "might not be able to order the whole of the human spirit, F.O.B.
Chicago, thirty days net." 13
Sinclair was especially outraged at the emergence of University-Gothic
in American architecture. He envisioned a conversation between the "he-
vamp," Harper, and his architect. The architect opened by suggesting an
economical floor plan. Harper demurred because the donor wanted "cul-
ture." To that the architect countered with a suggestion of pyramids. Harper
He would think that was heathen. He's a religious old bird — a
Baptist, like me; that's how I got him, in fact — met him at an ice cream
"Oh, well, then, it's plain," says the architectural wizard. "What
we want is real old Gothic — stained-glass windows, mullioned, and
crenellated battlements, and moated draw bridges — "
"That sounds great!" says the educational wizard. "What does it
To Sinclair there was no better way to expose "the elaborate system of
buncombe which is called 'higher education'" than to look at prevailing
notions of university architecture. He was aghast that
11 Ibid., pp 19, 29-37, 59-61.
12 Ibid., pp. Ill, 122, 141, 361-63, 457.
13 Ibid., pp 240-41.
154 The Bible and the University
here in twentieth century America, where we know of bows and
arrows only in poetry, and have the materials and the skill to build
structures of steel and glass, big and airy and bright as day — we
deliberately go and reproduce the architectural monstrosities, the
intellectual and spiritual deformities of a thousand years ago, and
compel modern chemists and biologists and engineers to do their
research work by artificial light, for fear of arrows which ceased to fly
when the last Indian was penned up in a reservation. 14
Sinclair's tour of the nation's universities produced no exception to the
general pattern he perceived of their subservience to the plutocracy. The
University of Chicago, in fact, fared better than most he surveyed. He
during the early days of the university President Harper stood for
liberalism in religion, and thereby lost much Baptist money; . . .
The system would not be free, however, until professors united as laborers
against the financial tyrants. Sinclair's socialism, never far from the surface in
this work, came into full view as he prescribed his solution for America's
freedom for the college professor awaits the overthrow of the pluto-
cratic empire. And since the only force in our society which can
achieve that overthrow is labor, it follows that the college professor's
hopes are bound up with the movement of the workers for freedom. 15
The penultimate goal of Sinclair's book was "to bring about a strike of
college professors." For him Harper was a lackey of the party of the past.
Only when Harper and his kind were out of power would education be free.
The Captain of Erudition
In a biographical sketch of Thorstein Veblen, Joseph Dorfman called his
subject a "man from Mars." In some ways Veblen never seemed to fit into
the world he inhabited. Consistently out of step with the styles and
expectations of his age, Veblen never found a secure niche in academia. But,
of the three critics examined here, Veblen is the most important. More
systematic than Herrick and less impassioned than Sinclair, Veblen penned
a reasoned, if personal, memorandum tided The Higher Learning in Amer-
ica: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men. 16
For Veblen the problem with university education in America was not
that it failed to live up to the image of Harvard or that it failed to join the
battle against the plutocracy. Instead the problem was the unique American
14 Ibid., pp. 241-42.
15 Ibid., pp. 246, 457ff., 472f.
16 Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct
of Universities by Business Men, intro. by Louis M. Hacker (New York: Sagamore Press,
1957), p. v.
Assessing A Vision 155
invention called the university president. Not content to tell a story of
dashed and rekindled illusions or to reveal all the sordid parts of early
university history in America, Veblen attempted to probe for root causes of
American higher educational trouble. At bottom, the problem was a group of
university leaders typified by William Rainey Harper.
Veblen knew Harper from firsthand experience. A Yale Ph.D., Veblen
had been unable to secure an academic position in the last years of the 1880s
until Harper hired him as a junior member of his initial teaching faculty.
Veblen's ineffectiveness in the classroom and less-than-orthodox life-style
resulted in a request for his resignation within a very short space of time. His
resentment found its oudet in a criticism of university presidents that almost
always held up Harper as a target. Veblen admitted that his argument drew
"largely on first-hand observation of the conduct of affairs at Chicago, under
the administration of its first president." Although he originally intended to
release his bombshell at the time that the "Great Pioneer" (Harper) died,
Veblen kept his manuscript from publication for several years for reasons of
decorum. That interval of more than a decade between first draft and
publication convinced Veblen that faults which he had first believed idio-
syncratic to Harper were actually generic to the office of university presi-
dent. Belatedly, in 1918 his book appeared. 17
Veblen began his analysis of American higher learning by positing "two
certain impulsive traits of human nature: an Idle Curiosity, and the Instinct
of Workmanship." The problem in his era was the intrusion of a habit of
workaday thought which had "imposed" itself upon the quest for knowl-
edge. As he surveyed the problems of higher education, Veblen continually
returned to this epistemological problem. "Matter-of-fact" knowledge, ex-
tremely useful to the newly emergent business culture of America, was
imposing ends and means upon learning which were throttling its soul. What
was emerging in America was a "barbarian University tradition." There
seemed to be no place left for idle curiosity — for the pursuit of knowledge for
its own sake. Instead a "habitual" practical bias was ruining education in
America. Worse, the "cult of Knowledge" which had been created around
this kind of matter-of-fact learning had usurped the privileged position
which religion had occupied in earlier ages. No great fan of any religion,
Veblen was an enemy of the new "cult" which was tyrannizing the mind of
The source of the problem in American higher education was, he
thought, the "current system of private ownership." An economic system
which permitted unprecedented concentrations of capital in relatively few
hands fostered a set of values that was at odds with learning.
17 Ibid., pp. vi, x— xi.
18 Ibid., pp. 3, 5, 26, 30, 43.
156 The Bible and the University
Business principles are the sacred articles of the secular creed,
and business methods make up the ritual of the secular cult.
These culture-wide values permeated academia, turning the university into
a "business house" run according to accounting techniques. The department
store — the exemplar of the new business culture's ethos of marketing,
packaging, and competition — became the basis for a sarcastic analogy. In the
modern university, a glossy commodity, erudition, was "standardized" to fit
a market. The university had become a corporation rather than a seminary of
In essence, Veblen believed that the university had escaped from one
tyranny, "clerical control," only to fall under the domination of another,
"business administration." The results of this second captivity, he felt,
became all too apparent in the accomplishments of people like Harper.
Under their leadership universities became preoccupied with appearances
as they engaged in "tawdry" exhibitions of "quasi-scholarly feats." Veblen,
like Sinclair, lampooned the business-minded educators' costly "architec-
ture of notoriety" as one more marketing device that kept donors and
students coming. He questioned the "fitness of housing the quest of truth in
an edifice of false pretenses." The academic ceremony which played an
important part in the university life of Harper's era resulted in what Veblen
derided as an "efflorescence of ritual and pageantry" strikingly similar to the
grand openings of department stores. "Public song and dance," routines of
"polite dissipation, ceremonial display, exhibitions of quasi-scholarly profi-
ciency and propagandist intrigue" received more attention from the univer-
sity executives than did serious matters of learning. 20
Veblen believed, however, that these publicity devices, the products of
the dominant competitive ethos of his day, were only surface symptoms of
deeper troubles in higher learning. As he singled out additional items for
criticism, Veblen managed to challenge most of Harper's innovations. Thus,
he viewed the connection of undergraduate and professional education to
the university (one of Harper's important legacies) as a lethal threat. Creation
of the "senior college" allowed the collegiate type of learning to spill over
into and further pollute the purity of university education.
Other distinctive features of Harper's vision for the modern university
received similar assessments. Academic departments became in Veblen's
eyes "bureaux of erudition" which competed for funds, equipment, and
clienteles. "Scholastic accessories" like athletics and fraternities taught
values of "genteel dissipation" and "conspicuous consumption." Systems of
grading and credits resulted in "sterilization of the academic intellect." The
practice of affiliating a variety of institutions only furthered the misguided
process of grafting extraneous enterprises onto the basic university purpose
19 Ibid., pp. 57, 60, 62-65.
20 Ibid., pp. 74, 78, 106, 115, 124-25.
Assessing A Vision 157
of non-practical education. University extension was in reality a means to
"dispense erudition by mail-order." The relation of a Divinity School or a
School of Commerce to a university were clear evidence of a president
possessed of a "histrionic sensibility." To Veblen the Divinity School was
simply a remnant of the declining old order of learning, while the School of
Commerce represented the "suppression of learning by worldly wisdom."
To this relentless critic the new configuration of higher education which
Harper had worked to consolidate, was merely an "enterprise in assorted
At the center of this destructive attempt to squeeze extra-economic
learning into the bureaucratic organization of American business, Veblen
placed the "captain of erudition." His criticisms became quite personal:
One is constrained to believe that the academic executive who
has been so thrown up as putative director of the pursuit of learning
must go in for this annexation of vocational schools, for amateurish
"summer sessions," for the appointment of schoolmasters instead of
scholars on the academic staff, for the safe-keeping and propagation of
genteel conventionalities at the cost of scholarship, for devout and
polite ceremonial, — one is constrained to believe that such a univer-
sity executive goes in for this policy of tawdry routine because he
lacks ordinary intelligence or because he lacks ordinary courage.
When he looked at the academic executive, i.e. Harper, Veblen saw only
"threadbare motives of unreflecting imitation and boyish make-believe." 22
In a footnote Veblen did grant that Harper had an "inconspicuously
brief" interval when his academic policy was subject to scholarly ideals. 23
The subsequent footnote, however, described the process of "scarcely
interrupted decay" which followed that interval. 24 Finally two words
summed up Harper in the eye of his critic — "ravenous megalomania." The
"duties of the office," as it was shaped in America, precipitated the tragic
outcome. Veblen went so far as to give a physical description of what hap-
pened to presidential incumbents. Like professional politicians, they were
visibly affected with those characteristic pathological marks that come
of what is conventionally called "high living" — late hours, unseason-
able vigils, surfeit of victuals and drink, the fatigue of sedentary
ennui. A flabby habit of body, hypertrophy of the abdomen, varicose
veins, particularly of the facial tissues, a blear eye and a coloration
suggestive of bile and apoplexy, — when this unwholesome bulk is
duly wrapped in a conventionally decorous costume it is accepted
rather as a mark of weight and responsibility and so serves to
distinguish the pillars of urbane society. 25
21 Ibid., pp. 80, 82, 87-88, 94, 140-41, 150.
22 Ibid., p. 177.
23 Ibid., p. 194 n. 11.
24 Ibid., p. 195 n. 12.
25 Ibid., pp. 195, 197, 178 n. 4.
158 The Bible and the University
In Veblen's eyes the university president was an abomination. Claiming
that he had made "all due endeavor to avoid the appearance of a study in
total depravity," Veblen tried to solve the problems he had diagnosed.
Solutions like removing higher learning from the university or creating
isolated intellectual retreats were rejected. Only one remedy would save
learning: "abolition of the academic executive and of the governing board"
of businessmen. Veblen called for disassembly of the academic configura-
tion which had been created by Harper and his presidential colleagues. He
longed for "small scale units" — in essence a return to part of the American
college idea. A nostalgia for better days and a naive trust that learning would
do best if left to follow its own course combined to shape his response. 26
While Herrick, Sinclair and Veblen each brought distinct perspectives
to their criticism of Harper and his university, it is possible to find a common
view among them. If only begrudgingly, they agreed that a scholarly ideal
had been present in the early days of Harper's presidency. But the ensuing
tragedy was that the pressures of building a going concern overcame his
ideal or vision leaving a legacy of sham, in which only a heroic few pursued
learning for its own sake. The common enemies were business, urbanization
and a crass set of values which passed for culture to those who did not know
any better. All three wished for the university to be a place where free and
unfettered learning could occur. All mourned the fact that the university was
a place where no such feat seemed likely.
The Veblenesque Legacy
Harper's critics seem to have had the last word. If any vestige of
Harper's vision remains it is usually closer to that depicted by Veblen than
that which Harper's own writings reveal. The astonishing fact about the fate
of Harper's vision is the silence which follows the bitter outburst of criticism
in the second and third decades of the twentieth century. No one rose to
defend the vision that Harper had carried into his work at Chicago. No loyal
school of disciples strove to perpetuate the ideas of their master. Harper's
efforts seemed potent enough to create a flash of reaction, but then they
receded into the background, only to be partially resurrected in occasional
dissertations or histories of education.
The question that looms is, why the silence? Were the criticisms
levelled by Herrick, Sinclair and Veblen so devastating that no rejoinder was
possible? Or are there other factors which account for the fact that if any
image of Harper survives, it is of the energetic entrepreneur who seemed to
share too many traits with Veblen's caricature of the captain of erudition?
When one looks at the alternatives which Herrick, Sinclair and Veblen
proposed it becomes clear that their visions did not succeed in higher
26 Ibid., pp. 192, 199-202, 207.
Assessing A Vision 159
education either. The Harvard ideal, the uprising of scholars who would
overthrow the plutocracy's interlocking directorate, the decentralized free
zones of idle curiosity, remain unfulfilled wishes. Some of the overwhelming
character of their collective criticism dims when their personal motives and
biases are considered. Herrick, the disenchanted ivy leaguer; Sinclair, the
scourge of American capitalism; Veblen, the scholar who found no hospital-
ity in the American educational world — all had an animus against Harper
impelled by far more than a mere encounter with the deficiencies in his
vision. Indeed, it may be claimed that they never grasped his vision and
instead reacted only to its institutional shell rather than to its religious
substance. One searches in vain, for example, for the slightest reference in
their works to the biblical gestalt which shaped Harper's perspective.
Instead, their criticisms were of Harper's personal style, or of selected
educational innovations. Herrick, Sinclair and Veblen groped for some
evidence of intellectual substance in the midst of all the academic invention
in the era of university-building. The irony is that they reacted primarily to
Harper's administrative achievements, while ignoring his ideas. That legacy
of ignorance, which can be traced to the earliest of the three published
versions of Harper's failure, Veblen's, still obscures the modern view of
To account for this paradoxical depiction of an intellectually barren
president who in fact understood himself to be driven by the "highest"
ideals requires both historical and biographical explanations. Through an
examination of the context in which Harper disappeared from prominence,
the Veblenesque legacy can become more understandable. At the same time
there were biographical factors which contributed to the disappearance of
Harper's vision and those too need to be examined.
From Voluntaryism to Professionalism
Sidney E. Mead and James Luther Adams have each argued that a
characteristic feature of American religious life has been voluntaryism. 27
Adams defined the voluntary principle as "the freedom to form, or to belong
to, voluntary associations." 28 From their colonial beginnings Americans
sought social meaning through groups formed and abandoned. American
denominationalism, as well as much of the nation's benevolence and social
reform, can be embraced within this understanding of voluntaryism.
The voluntary principle met a serious challenge during the age of
Harper's ascent to prominence. The return to America of a generation of
27 Sidney E. Mead, The Lively Experiment: The Shaping of Christianity in America (New
York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963), pp. 96, 113-15; James Luther Adams, "The
Voluntary Principle in the Forming of American Religion," The Religion of the Republic,
Elwyn A. Smith, ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), pp. 217ff.
28 Adams, "The Voluntary Principle," p. 218.
160 The Bible and the University
German-trained scholars who assumed new places within divisions of
learning signalled the rise of a new social dynamic, professionalism, which
altered the American social and educational terrain. Thomas L. Haskell, for
example, traced this transition from voluntaryism to professionalism in
American social science during the nineteenth century. He found that in its
early days anyone with a concern for improving the quality of American life
could join the American Social Science Association, a voluntary organization
formed in 1865 by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn. By the time of the organi-
zation's demise in 1909, university-based professions had erected a new
structure of social science which made Sanborn's creation obsolete. Aca-
demic disciplines like sociology, economics and history had developed their
own new organizations, which were formed voluntarily, but with profes-
sional restrictions and control over membership. 29 Another scholar of pro-
fessionalism, Paul H. Mattingly, discovered a similar transition in the history
of public-school teaching. At one time earnest reformers like Henry Barnard
and Horace Mann formed schools and educational organizations almost at
will. By the end of the nineteenth century the voluntary network of teachers
once controlled by benevolent gentlemen like Barnard and Mann had been
supplanted by a profession with its own standards and systems of employ-
The consequences of this transition from voluntaryism to professional-
ism — which could be seen in many other zones in American life beyond
social science and public school teaching — have been labeled "the culture of
professionalism" by Burton Bledstein. In a spirit reminiscent of Veblen,
Bledstein charged that there was a hollowness in the dominant culture of
America, which was mediated by the university. By focusing on the dynamic
of professionalism Bledstein moved beyond Veblen and indicted a larger
cultural reality of which businessmen were only a part. 31
When Harper rose to prominence during the late nineteenth century, he
paradoxically served both as exemplar of voluntaryism and carrier of the new
style of professionalism. Like so many other American entrepreneurs of his
era Harper created organizations whenever the opportunity arose. His
Hebrew Institute, Religious Education Association, and Chautauqua efforts
were all examples of how an individual created or altered institutions as
needs dictated. The University of Chicago, like all other private American
universities, began as a voluntary organization — people were invited to
support it, to join its faculty, to come and study.
Harper never broke with the voluntary principle. There was room for
29 Thomas L. Haskell, The Emergence of Professional Social Science: The American
Social Science Association and the Nineteenth-Century Crisis of Authority (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1977), pp. 24, 97ff.
30 Paul H. Mattingly, The Classless Profession: American Schoolmen in the Nineteenth
Century (New York: New York University Press, 1975).
31 Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism.
Assessing A Vision 161
everybody in his configuration of education. His journals regularly asked
people to join this group or take that action. At the same time, however,
Harper was one of the new breed, a professional. A Ph.D. and obvious
linguistic competence allowed him to create a special preserve of learning
and to preside over it. Harper seemed to value both dynamics. He encour-
aged "specialism" in his university departments, but felt no contradiction
when he sought to make a congregation out of his institution's many
subgroups. Harper appealed to his audiences in the voluntary spirit and
frequently sought to change the wills of his listeners — to convert them to his
image of education, or Bible, or America.
The university world which grew in part because of the effectiveness of
the voluntary principle succumbed to the attractions of professionalism.
Laurence Veysey signalled the importance of this change when he con-
cluded the first phase of his history of the American University at the turn of
the twentieth century. Veysey claimed that after the era of people like
Harper, "the university tended to lose itself among individual disciplines." 32
Scholars came to universities like the one that Harper built for a variety of
reasons, many of them professional. At his institution Harper catered to
professional dreams by promising opportunities for research, advancement,
facilities, and journals. In essence Harper's voluntary style of presidency,
which recruited people to participate in the creation of what promised to be
the ultimate organization for remedying America's ills, made possible the
individual professional pursuits which scholars like Bledstein and Veysey
have posited as the norm in American higher education. Voluntaryism did
not disappear because of professionalism. It was domesticated and often
forced out of the university by professionals who brought new standards and
styles to their tasks.
The Quest for the Great Community
A second characteristic transition of Harper's age was the shift from
village to metropolitan ways of life. Jean Quandt in From the Small Town to
the Great Community has argued that progressives of Harper's era carried
smalltown images with them as they attempted to construct solutions to the
problems posed by unsettling urban environments. Quandt noticed that
important social thinkers like John Dewey, Jane Addams, William Allen
White, and Josiah Royce (and I would add Harper and Veblen) shared
remarkably similar life trajectories.
Born between 1855 and 1868, raised in small towns from Ver-
mont to California, they came of age in an increasingly urban and
industrial society. Their response to the social landscape was shaped
by the religious and intellectual traditions, old and new, which they
appropriated; but it was also formed by the values of the face-to-face
32 Veysey, The Emergence of the American University, p. 12.
162 The Bible and the University
communities from which they came. Their formulation of the prob-
lems of community in the years after 1890 clearly reflected their social
Quandt's hypothesis provides a useful perspective for viewing Harper's
efforts and also helps account for the distance between his concerns and
those of later generations. In many ways Harper attempted to make the
University of Chicago into a larger version of New Concord. Acting like a
parish pastor on some occasions and a political boss on others, Harper seized
one device after another in efforts to forge a community in the midst of the
pluralism of his new creation. Students were invited to his office at gradua-
tion time for face to face conversations about their futures. President Harper
appeared in residences to minister to the concerns and anxieties of dislo-
cated students. His administrative style often mimicked general-store days
in New Concord. Not content to be a specialized administrator, Harper
involved himself in a variety of minuscule matters like settling disputes over
library fines and selecting choir music for public programs. 34
One of Harper's most prominent failures reveals the depth of his
community aspirations. The University of Chicago was designed to include
its own Congregation, which would meet quarterly to allow all of the varied
divisions to experience their oneness and "make recommendations to the
governing bodies of the University." Pastors of local churches, administra-
tors of affiliated institutions, faculty, all the university's Ph.D.s, and other
representative alumni were all to be involved in one great democratic
congregation or assembly of people connected to the university. Harper's
longtime colleague, Thomas W. Goodspeed, claimed, however, that the one
thing the Congregation lacked was an "important function for it to perform."
Lacking genuine authority and purpose, the Congregation faded from view
reducing its number of meetings from four to one per year in 1909, before it
33 Quandt, From the Small Town to the Great Community, p. 3.
34 Harper sent a general invitation to eighteen prospective graduates on January 24, 1896,
inviting them to a series of weekly Tuesday afternoon meetings (Personal Papers, Box 6,
Folder 21). Nellie E. Fuller received an invitation on February 2, 1905 which stated:
"President Harper desires to become acquainted with the students who will graduate this
quarter, and to this end, is asking them from time to time to call upon him at his office hour
11:00 to 12:00. In case it is convenient, it will be a favor if you will come in at this time
to-morrow" (Personal Papers, Box 7, Folder 18).
Harper also intervened in a squabble between student Louis G. Whitehead and a
librarian. On March 5, 1895, the president informed Mr. Whitehead that "I have taken a
great deal of trouble, as you yourself will appreciate, in the matter of the library fine. I have
done this not only for your sake but for the sake of all the students." Harper could not resist
adding "you were delinquent" in a subsequent paragraph (Personal Papers, Box 2, Folder
In a letter to Mr. Lester B. Jones, June 4, 1902, Harper vetoed a hymn selected for the
spring convocation religious service: "The President does not like the hymn numbered 1.
He wants something better. He does not like the anthem, 'Hark, hark, my soul.' It is too old.
Get something new" (Personal Papers, Box 6, Folder 15).
Assessing A Vision 163
finally slipped from view altogether. The coherence Harper had hoped to
provide through this innovation never materialized. 35
At the same time that he strove for community, Harper also concentrated
on individuals, searching for ways to make the often cumbersome machinery
of learning work for those who needed help. His correspondence reveals
presidential involvement in a variety of individual situations ranging from
disciplinary cases at the Morgan Park Academy to informal counselling for
those searching for religious faith. In addition to his exhausting administra-
tive tasks Harper wrote personal sympathy notes to those in the university
community who experienced illness or bereavement. Through these and
other personal investments he hoped to foster face-to-face relations with
every member of his burgeoning university family. Thus, his depiction of the
ideal professor as "older brother" was more than a rhetorical device; instead
it pointed to the smalltown core of his expansive scholarly vision. 36
The intimate community with its unacknowledged roots in Harper's
smalltown origins, remained a tacit assumption about how things ought to be
rather than a stated goal. Indeed, the quest for such a community did not
compel others who had never experienced the way of life Harper thought he
had left behind. As generations of teachers and students with ever more
urbanized backgrounds came to his university, his various attempts to create
one community out of the many worlds of higher education took on
increasingly quaint appearance and receded from view.
The Problem of Progress
Another barrier between Harper's climate of opinion and that of the late
twentieth century is the tarnishing of American notions of progress and
manifest destiny. Progress was self-evident for Harper. Both the new
possibilities opened by rapid advances in technology and a personal history
of almost unlimited achievement united in his experience to provide
seemingly unassailable reasons for individuals like Harper to assume that
life was moving ever upward. The religious development he discovered in
his study of the Scriptures meshed congruently into a progressive picture of
life which was supported by data from his own experience. After all, life had
35 Goodspeed, A History of The University of Chicago, p. 395-6.
36 Harper informed Rev. J. Meier, on May 29, 1896, that "your son is giving the faculty at
Morgan Park a great deal of trouble." He did the delicate task of expressing the Academy
faculty's desire "to remove him from the school" (Personal Papers, Box 2, Folder 26). On
February 22, 1898, Lloyd W. Bowers, General Counsel, Chicago and Northwestern
Railway Company, wrote Harper about his "craving" for "Christian confidence" and his
need for sympathy following his spouse's death. Harper responded with an undated
luncheon invitation in order to discuss Bowers' questions (Personal Papers, Box 4, Folders
2 and 3). Harper's description of the university professor as "older brother" is found in
"The College Officer and the College Student," The Trend in Higher Education, p. 331.
164 The Bible and the University
moved rapidly upward from his smalltown origins to his university presi-
dency. The rest of the world could take similar arduous but promising roads.
Already in Harper's era there were more than a few doubters who
questioned assumptions of inevitable progress and America's special des-
tiny. Upton Sinclair and others who shared similar perspectives were
alarmed at what was happening to America and strove to turn the tide. But
the idealistic age was to last until the crisis of Woodrow Wilson's presidency.
Elected as the national exemplar of idealism, Wilson led America into a war
to "make the world safe for democracy." His ill-fated proposal for a League
of Nations was the last natural gasp of the American blend of special destiny
and unchastened idealism. The rejection of his plan for a new order of
international existence by both the European nations and his own people
contributed to Wilson's personal breakdown and subsequent nationwide
disillusionment. Americans revived notions of specialness and divinely
mandated status at later points in the twentieth century, but they did so in
the face of troubling national circumstances, not out of a self-evident sense
that the nation and progress were natural partners.
Professionalism, the passing of the generation which made the transit
from small town to great community, and the weakening of the idea of
progress are major factors which separate Harper's world from ours. Ameri-
ca's increasingly pluralist character and the irrevocable process of urbaniza-
tion combine with those factors to form a social moraine between Harper and
later generations. Although the chronological distance between him and
present-day readers is not great, the social distance is immense.
The Transformation of American Religion
More than social distance is involved, however, in the silence about
Harper. American religion also underwent decisive transformation in the era
of Harper and Wilson. In Righteous Empire Martin E. Marty described the
religious transformation which began in the years following post-Civil War
Reconstruction as a shift "from Evangelical Empire to Protestant Experi-
ence." 37 During Harper's era, religion in America was relocated. Harper
came of age in a predominantly Protestant world, but his career contained
many encounters with varieties of religious experience that served to
relativize his own. Immigrants brought ethnic styles of Catholicism,
Lutheranism, Judaism, and other more exotic varieties of Old World reli-
gions. New religions emerged on the American scene — products of revival-
ism, social dislocation, and compelling personal experiences.
No longer could Americans assume a common Protestant framework
shared by all. The social variety of religious expression made it difficult for
individuals to find common religious symbols to comprehend differences of
37 Marty, Righteous Empire, pp. 131ff.
Assessing A Vision 165
heredity, environment and experience. A public demeanor began to emerge
which bracketed religious questions. "The ordeal of civility" was John
Murray Cuddihy's aphorism for the personal turmoil which accompanied the
emergence of this public civil style. As individuals sought to find public
ways to relate to others who did not share common beliefs, they began to
build private spheres where old beliefs could survive. New social and
religious habits gradually emerged which made religion seem unrelated to
most public areas of life. Cuddihy believed that modern humans came to be
fragmented individuals, struggling to "pass" in public while clinging tena-
ciously to fundamental beliefs in private. 38
The public consequences of this religious relocation can be seen in
various attempts during the twentieth century of people like John Dewey to
construct a "common faith" for democracy. 39 In its encounter with modernity
America's religious life had been so transformed that by midcentury Will
Herberg could describe the sociological contours of a religion of the
American way of life which seemed to provide minimal social integration in
the face of pluralism and fragmentation. 40 In the mid-1960s, little more than
a decade after Herberg made his social diagnosis, historian Sidney Mead
traced the development in America of an inclusive "theonomous cosmopol-
itanism," while sociologist Robert Bellah argued for both the existence of
and need for a "civil religion." 41 Each of these attempts to discern a publicly
acceptable common religion or faith for America were responses to the
religious pluralism which had fractured the Protestant Empire of the nine-
Even denominations, once the intact subcultures which provided secure
religious frameworks for adherents, experienced the effects of the new
religious situation. Fundamentalism and modernism cut across traditionally
secure denominational boundaries, with Protestants being divided over a
variety of social and theological issues, just as were Catholics and Jews. The
result was that religion had become a source of fragmentation rather than
integration; every time it appeared in the public sphere it was fisiporous.
Harper's understanding of religion was quite different from that of
subsequent generations. He strove to create a new public form of religion
which provided empirically verifiable grounds upon which to construct a
common faith. In response to his era's religious needs biblical criticism
became the chosen intellectual solution for overcoming problems posed by
38 John Murray Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the
Jewish Struggle with Modernity (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1974).
39 Dewey, A Common Faith.
40 Will Herberg, Protestant — Catholic— Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology
(Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1960).
41 Mead, The Nation with the Soul of a Church, (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 76,
and Bellah, "Civil Religion in America," Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-
Traditional World (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 168-89.
166 The Bible and the University
the various denominational traditions. The university, on the other hand,
could lead all sorts of inquirers into a religious quest which would eventu-
ally discover a common ethos, grounded in the verifiable results of modern
biblical scholarship. Harper thus can be seen as one of the early proponents
of a new form of public religion which could respond to the new social and
religious realities of his day.
Although concerned to support the public weal, Harper unwittingly
aided in the relegation of religion to the private sphere. His reticence about
his own conversion experience demonstrates how the distinction between
public and private spheres of life was reshaping American religion. In early
periods of American life conversion had been a community affair. However,
when Harper and others like him began to move into a pluralistic public
world that found claims based on conversion less than plausible, they
frequently chose to keep those matters out of view.
But Harper also contributed to the privatization of religion in America in
far more overt ways. Ironically, his very "drive toward publicness" 42 under-
mined his goal. Biblical criticism and the messianic university were, in his
vision, means for providing integration for modern life. Instead Harper's
integrators became disintegrators. Biblical criticism helped to create what
Marty has called a "two-party system" within American Protestantism. 43
Along with revivalism, slavery, and the social gospel, such scholarship
became another source of conflict rather than a means of uniting American
religion. And the nation's universities soon became quintessential exem-
plars of fragmented learning and competing perspectives. On the university
campuses of the land, religion, if it was given any space at all, found its
Harper's efforts met a fate similar to that of other religious attempts to
provide new solutions to the problems of the always perplexing American
environment. Seeking to provide an alternative which could embrace or cut
through the knotty problems of American diversity, Harper's public form of
religion ended up nurturing one more subgroup — this time a scholarly elite
of exegetes — which took its place among the myriad subcultures of America.
His biblical movement, which had at first seemed so encompassing, con-
stricted into a scholarly discipline.
The Invisible Vision
If Harper's critics seemed to find little but ruin in his vision, and if the
social and religious changes in America seem to place Harper on the
opposite side of an insurmountable moraine from late twentieth-century
42 The phrase is from David Tracy's, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology
and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad Press, 1981), p. 80.
43 Marty, Righteous Empire, pp. 177ff.
Assessing A Vision 167
readers, is anything possible but a nostalgic glance at the ruins? The answer
is found by turning back to Harper for one last perusal.
Harper's vision, although it seems almost too public by late twentieth-
century standards, was not clearly visible to people of his own age. His
publishing career, with the exception of the commentary on Amos and
Hosea, consisted of occasional pieces on selected topics. He never sought to
construct what this book attempts — a comprehensive statement of what he
was about. Admitting that he was not a systematic thinker, Harper parcelled
out pieces of his vision in a variety of places. Unless his contemporaries read
all of his journals, accompanied him to Chautauqua, and listened to the
variety of talks he gave at the University of Chicago and around the nation,
they could not have had a full picture of Harper's vision.
One possible explanation for Harper's reluctance to state his complete
vision can be found in the cautious editorial policy he adopted when
considering whether or not to discuss historical critical questions in his
fledgling journal, The Hebrew Student. In 1882 he had decided that "make
haste, slowly" would be his guiding principle. Six years later, he intention-
ally ignored the advice of many readers who encouraged him to consider
controversial Pentateuchal questions on the pages of his publication, which
by that time had become The Old Testament Student. Harper's reply was
"the time has not yet come when even such a journal as The Student can take
up and present such material with impunity." 44 Harper the scholar-editor
clearly had a vision for biblical studies in the 1880s, but he deliberately
chose a path of cautious discretion about introducing that vision in a
complete form to the public.
Harper's death at age 50 interrupted a career that, at least in his own
eyes, had many tasks left to accomplish. The new Religious Education
Association, the yet to be realized national university, and plans for his own
growing university all called for many more goals and efforts. Since Harper
did not discuss his failure to state his total educational and religious vision in
a complete and systematic way, perhaps it is reasonable to assume, given the
sense of cautious timing present throughout his editorial career, that he did
not state such a vision because in his estimation his audience was not yet
ready for it.
When cancer closed in on him during his last year of life Harper tried to
pull together some key fragments of his thought in both The Trend and his
commentary on Amos and Hosea. But even those hurried attempts resulted
only in a collection of his thoughts on higher education on one hand and a
partial statement of his biblical perspective on the other. He died before his
vision was fully stated. Moreover, those who worked with him seemed to
grasp only the particular piece of his vision that affected them directly.
Biblical colleagues welcomed his articles and commentary but seemed to
44 See Chapter 3, p. 57.
168 The Bible and the University
know little of his larger vision for higher education and the nation. Educa-
tors, as Veblen and Herrick amply demonstrate, reacted to his innovations in
their world but saw no connection between Harper the president and
Harper the biblical scholar.
Harper seems never to have pressed his faculty to grapple with his full
vision. In fact, colleagues felt free to participate in it selectively, appropri-
ating only what meshed with their own wishes and dreams. Thus J.W.
Moncrief assumed he was hired to teach at a "Baptist University" while his
colleague William C. Hale chafed when he heard the term and was
concerned that Chicago's non-religious character be maintained. Clarence
Luther Herrick (no relation to Robert) saw in Harper's university the
opportunity to do a Christian version of field-encompassing science. Charles
Whitman, on the other hand, came to Chicago to devote a career to studying
the evolution of pigeons. Each found aspects of Harper's vision to be
compatible with basic private goals and beliefs; although many, like Veblen,
thought they understood him, few if any of his colleagues seemed fully
aware of what he was up to. 45
Harper's style of leadership was an additional factor responsible for both
the success he experienced and his subsequent disappearance from view.
Harper built his critical reformation on an ability to interpret sacred texts of
an ancient tradition in a new manner. The weight of the most recent
scholarship and thousands of years of religious history buttressed his claim.
But Harper also had about him a quality which, if not totally charismatic, was
at least quasi-charismatic. Goodspeed's previously noted description of his
first encounter with Harper revealed an unusual dimension in the young
Harper which separated him from other bright young men. 46 There was an
observable ability in him to compel others. Those who worked with him in
tedious tasks of mastering ancient verb forms and editing journals sensed
that they were doing far more — participating in a Hebrew movement.
Rockefeller and the wealthy Chicagoans who sat on the University of
Chicago's Board of Trustees were swayed by the force of Harper's persona,
as were faculty who left secure teaching positions in other institutions to
participate in Haiper's grand vision.
A distinctive mixture of leadership qualities enabled Harper to succeed.
His ability to salvage a religious tradition suffering under the weight of
modernity attracted religious supporters. At the same time that he found a
new way to invoke a traditional authority he helped people make the transit
to life in a new university setting by the force of his own authority, the
promises he made, the opportunities he offered. Harper's idiosyncratic
45 J. W. Moncrief to William Rainey Harper, December 9, 1890, Personal Papers, Box 14,
Folder 14; W.G. Hale to William Rainey Harper, May 2, 1892, Personal Papers, Box 13,
Folder 38; Herrick and Whitman's perceptions are assessed in Blake, "The Concept and
Development of Science at The University of Chicago, 1890-1905," pp. 118, 24.
46 See Chapter 2, p. 37.
Assessing A Vision 169
combination of these different styles of leadership allowed people to follow
him without having to commit themselves to his entire vision. Students
could be inspired by their Hebrew teacher without knowing where he stood
on key issues of hermeneutics. Faculty could come to his university without
an awareness that they were joining a messianic institution.
The multiform character of Harper's interest also served to undermine
his vision. Interested in nearly every phase of university life, Harper seemed
unable or unwilling to disentangle himself from routine administrative
matters in order to consolidate and state his vision. The picture that emerges
from his "red books" is of a president who continually sought to do
everything. Daily lists of "things to do" often contained more than fifty
items. Again and again Harper would map out his day, trying to broker all of
his interests. 47 The pressure of so many competing concerns prevented
systematic efforts at developing and nurturing a vision. Temperament and
circumstances seemed to conspire to keep Harper's envisioning occasional
rather than sustained and disciplined.
When Harper died in 1906 there was an immense outpouring of grief.
Richard D. Harlan, President of Lake Forest College, affirmed Harper's
visionary capacities by calling him "a seer among educators." Numerous
other educators, pastors, students and scholars flooded the Harper household
with glowing tributes to the man who had built their university or their
picture of religious reality. 48 But although the encomia were overwhelming,
no one arose to carry on the Harper vision. The presidential dynamo had
failed to hand on his largest dreams to a school of prophets.
The Cultured Transformer
The disappearance of Harper's vision can also be attributed to his
unavoidable participation in social dynamics which mitigated against his
purposes. Harper conceived of himself as a reformer, whose purpose was to
clear away old interpretations of Scripture and old models of learning in
order to usher in new, higher types. He sought to transform his culture in a
manner which exemplified the pattern of Christian existence in society that
H. Richard Niebuhr identified as the "Christ transforming culture" type. 49
Not so pessimistic about American life that he could consider either
withdrawal from it or its destruction, Harper was a meliorist who sought to
convert the culture to a biblical way of life.
47 William Rainey Harper, "July 8 Monday Things to Do," Red Book No. 6, Personal
Papers, p. 38, and Red Book No. 2, p. 94.
48 Harlan to Mrs. William Rainey Harper, January 18, 1906, Personal Papers, Box 17,
Folder 4. A wide variety of letters of sympathy on the occasion of Harper's death are
collected in Box 17 of his Personal Papers.
49 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1951),
170 The Bible and the University
What he could not perceive about himself was that his behavior also
resembled one of the other categories in Niebuhr's famous typology. Harper
was "of the culture" he sought to transform. 50 As he built his university he
furthered the development of academic disciplines, of professionalism, and
of the fragmentation of knowledge. Despite hopes to the contrary, his efforts
at reinterpreting the Scriptures exacerbated the fracturing process within
American religion and weakened already shaky denominational traditions
instead of creating a more learned Christian public. Heavy emphasis on
publishing helped foster the explosion of knowledge which made coteries of
experts increasingly necessary. Harper helped to bureaucratize learning and
routinize its development in the process of trying to include all fields of
knowledge within his university. His problem-centered approach to educa-
tion furthered the individualizing of knowledge rather than enhancing the
common discovery of it.
Harper's itinerant presidency presaged an age when university execu-
tives became important primarily for abilities at fundraising, public relations
and administration. His sporadic attempts to state his vision took place
within a context where the college president who synthesized all learning in
a course called Moral Philosophy had become obsolete. One sign that the
new organization of learning had arrived may be Harper's failure to pass on
his vision. As Harper strove to carry on his biblical scholarship and to run his
edifice of learning, he straddled two eras, strenuously advocating a Messi-
anic ideal while simultaneously supporting developments which reshaped
it. In short, vision of the type that motivated Harper was becoming a private
matter in the public world of education.
Placing a President
A survey of the most vocal and, at times, shrill criticisms made of Harper,
along with consideration of several factors which have raised the social and
religious moraine between Harper and subsequent generations, helps ac-
count for his relegation to the back corridors of American history. Aware of
the legacy of ignorance which cloaks his vision like a shroud, and mindful of
the experiential distance between then and now, the historian finally
attempts to place Harper within the limits and possibilities of his own
particular period. Part of the reason for the enduring obscurity which
surrounds Harper is a pervasive vagueness about his era. Turn-of-the-
century America has remained a neglected historical era, almost guarantee-
ing fundamental misreadings of the period and its people.
One important attempt to penetrate the historical haze which surrounds
Harper and his contemporaries is Laurence R. Veysey's The Emergence of
the American University. This complex narrative about the formation of the
50 Ibid., pp. 83ff.
Assessing A Vision 171
American university is indispensable for understanding the plot of American
intellectual and institutional history. In broad outline, Veysey's narrative
tells the following story. American higher education prior to the Civil War
was dominated by a "mental discipline" paradigm. This model of shaping a
mind via the drudgery of recitation, translation and regurgitation became
increasingly cumbersome in the rapidly changing environment of
postbellum America. During the 1870s and 1880s a new institution, the
university, appeared on the American horizon to challenge the prevailing
collegiate style. It did not appear all at once, but rather was the product of a
rich interplay of ideas and environment, beliefs and behavior. The decades
of the 1870s and 1880s were marked by numerous attempts to restructure
American education. A variety of scholars and visionaries contended for
more or less distinct approaches which Veysey has classified in terms of
basic commitments to utility, research or liberal culture.
At about the time that Harper became president of the University of
Chicago, Veysey suggests, institutional constraints began to overwhelm
these ideas about the university. Pressures of finances, diverse programs,
complex bureaucratic imperatives, and the increasing burden of creating and
sustaining a public image acceptable to a growing American clientele began
to mold universities into amazingly similar shapes. Institutions as diverse as
Yale — defender for some time of the old "mental discipline" model — and
Johns Hopkins — archetype of the research paradigm — blurred into one
common university type. By the end of the period which Veysey describes,
universities had become distressingly alike, characterized by bureaucratic
types of organization, serious gaps between student desires and faculty
concerns, and administrators who had fundamentally different interests than
those which first gave rise to the complex institutions under their care.
Commitments as diverse as pure research, championship football, fraternity
culture and professional careerism coexisted, for the most part peacefully,
under the umbrella of institutions which were held together more by
organizational linkages than by commitment to ideals or personalities. 51
Veysey's instructive version of the story of the university provides a
much needed historical perspective for viewing one of the central institu-
tions in modern American life. His tracing of the complex and haphazard
development of an entity which seemed to intrude abruptiy into American
life and then with equal suddenness come to a place of pre-eminence,
corrects notions that the university was formed according to one blueprint, or
that American education had to take the shape it did. Further, Veysey's
placing of Harper within the larger plot of this complex story helps us to
relocate him within his own context and to assess him on its terms rather
than by standards imposed from later times.
Harper was, according to Veysey, part of the second act of the American
51 Veysey, The Emergence of the American University.
172 The Bible and the University
university drama. Others, like Andrew Dickson White of Cornell, Charles
Eliot of Harvard, Daniel Coit Gilman of Johns Hopkins, G. Stanley Hall of
Clark or Woodrow Wilson of Princeton, were key representatives of con-
tending ideas within the first phase of American university history. Harper,
on the other hand (here once again the Veblenesque legacy!), was of
significance because he represented, almost to the point of caricature, the
new administrative tenor which came to supplant powerful ideas about
education in the 1890s. He thus becomes for Veysey the great blender and
reconciler of American higher education, holding together within the com-
plex matrix of his institution the many diverse and contradictory components
of the emergent modern organization of knowledge. 52
Before challenging Veysey's overall portrait of Harper, it is important to
note points of convergence between his description and the one developed
on these pages. Thus Veysey's portrait calls attention to Harper's pro-
nounced ability to gather people of competing interests and perspectives
and fashion them into a faculty. Veysey's Harper presided adroitly over a
burgeoning bureaucracy, seemed to relish creating new administrative
structures, and gained distinction chiefly as an unparalleled fundraiser and
enthusiastic promoter of his new university.
But once again Harper's vision, his biblical perspective and his evan-
gelical commitment have been ignored. Instead, an incomplete portrait has
been presented, which captures many of the facts about Harper the bureau-
crat while omitting his alternative integrator to administration as the glue for
the modern American configuration of learning. To counter such a portrait, a
brief overview of the distinctive approaches and achievements of several
representative university presidents of the era will provide points of com-
parison with the Harper vision developed in the preceding chapters. Such a
comparison, building on Veysey's descriptions of Harper's colleagues, may
allow Harper to take a new place in American religious and educational
history. It may also suggest the need to tell the late nineteenth-century
American religious story in ways that capture more than disintegration,
retreat and impotence.
While many regard the founding of the Johns Hopkins University in
1876 as the opening page of the university story in America, Veysey carefully
recalls its prehistory. Andrew Dickson White and Charles Eliot, for example,
made serious earlier attempts to reform the "mental discipline'' paradigm of
collegiate education. White (1832—1918) came from affluent Episcopal New
York origins along a circuitous, gentlemanly route to become the founding
president of Cornell University in 1868. Along the way he escaped from the
sectarian confines of Geneva College by going into hiding, where he
remained until his parents consented to a change to Yale. After study in Paris
and Berlin, work as attache to the American delegation to St. Petersburg, and
52 Ibid., pp. 367-80.
Assessing A Vision 173
a tour of Italy, he began to teach history at the University of Michigan. His
formative experience of dissatisfaction with American education and his
subsequent exposure to the academic and cultural riches of Europe, pro-
vided raw materials for a dream of an institution that would surpass even
Yale, his first haven from sectarian narrowness. At the University of Michi-
gan, White began to outline his plans for a university for the state of New
York. A brief stint as senator back in New York included service as Chairman
of the New York Senate's Education Committee. White used both his
senatorial clout (over the state's land allotment under the Morril Act of 1862)
and a friendship with fellow senator Ezra Cornell, to secure a charter for his
new university. 53
Veysey suggests that three controlling ideas guided White as he shaped
Cornell University: non-sectarianism in religion, freedom of choice among
various courses of study, and equality of status among the various subjects of
learning. But underneath these three "guiding ideas" Veysey found a
fundamental commitment to the "idea of the university as a training ground
for politically-oriented public service."
White pictured . . . graduates pouring into the legislatures, staffing the
newspapers, and penetrating the municipal and county boards of
America. Corruption would come to an end; pure American ideals
would prosper until one day they governed the entire world.
In short, White was a proponent of the ideal of utility. The university was to
serve public well-being, not the interests of any smaller group or sect.
Practical types of learning such as pharmacy and industrial studies were to
have a place in the Cornell curriculum. 54
Charles William Eliot (1834—1926) seemed to follow a streamlined
trajectory from birth in a prominent Bostonian family to the presidency of
Harvard in 1869. Rigorous preparatory education at Boston's Latin School
and the Unitarianism of King's Chapel shaped Eliot for entry to Harvard
College at age fifteen. Four years later he became tutor of mathematics, then
assistant professor at his alma mater. The only major hitch in his Harvard rise
came in 1863 when he failed to secure promotion and lost his position.
Europe beckoned in 1865 and again in 1867, affording opportunity for a
survey of continental educational models. An article summarizing his find-
ings, entitled "The New Education: Its Organization," appeared in an 1869
issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Suddenly the Harvard Corporation rediscov-
ered its interest in Eliot and elected him president of the College, although
not without some objection. The twenty-second president of America's
senior academic institution, Eliot was its third non-clergy president. 55
53 "Andrew Dickson White," Dictionary of American Biography, 20:88-93.
54 White is discussed and quoted in Veysey, The Emergence of the American University,
55 "Charles William Eliot," Dictionary of American Biography, 6:71-78.
174 The Bible and the University
In his 1869 Inaugural Address, Eliot called for an end to the imposed
curriculum. The elective system remains as a monument to his presidency.
Concerned to educate individuals for "real life," Eliot felt that teaching
students responsible decision-making was essential. Thus, selecting courses
of study became a lesson for living in a world saturated with the problem of
choice. Eliot's forty-year presidential tenure during these years of higher-
educational transition allowed him to participate in numerous reforms of
professional and secondary education. It is instructive to recall, however,
that he came into office with very little in the way of a concrete academic
program except a desire to advance the elective system. The goal of his
reform was to shape a new kind of student; Eliot's ideal student would not
be molded in the rubber-stamp image of the mental discipline era, but
equipped to serve in public life with abilities to decide responsibly. Veysey
discerned a less obvious motive in Eliot's "rationalistic individualism": an
"intelligent patrician's adjustment to a new threat from 'below.'" In his
efforts to make Harvard "a voluntary cooperative association of highly
individualistic persons," Eliot was also responding to new social realities
which challenged the imagination of New England's elite. 56
While both White and Eliot were committed to allowing choice and
social utility to reshape higher education, they lacked commitment to
research as the basic purpose of their universities. Although they distanced
their institutions from the "mental discipline" paradigm, their concern
remained with a particular type of student: the socially useful, competent
citizen. Only after the sudden appearance of a new institution dedicated to
research as its highest goal — the Johns Hopkins — did either White or Eliot
begin to move their institutions to respond to the need for graduate studies.
White and Eliot both supported Daniel Coit Gilman as the best person to
lead the Balitmore institution. Yet in their recommendations supporting his
candidacy neither mentioned research as the reason for their choice. 57
Gilman (1831—1908) came from affluent Connecticut Congregational
roots and followed a path to university-leadership similar to that of Andrew
Dickson White. In fact, the two shared several of their years of preparation as
classmates at Yale and fellow travelers in Europe. After returning to Yale
from Europe, Gilman was given the opportunity to design the Sheffield
Scientific School, which he served as librarian, secretary and professor of
physical and political geography. After seventeen years at these diverse
specialties, Gilman accepted the offer to become president of the University
of California in 1872. A recalcitrant California legislature, however, and the
seven million dollar estate of Johns Hopkins combined to lure him to
Baltimore where he shaped an institution devoted to graduate study and the
56 Veysey, The Emergence of the American University, pp. 87—94.
57 Ibid., p. 95.
Assessing A Vision 175
ideal of research. 58 He came to his new post intending to build a "faculty of
medicine and a faculty of philosophy," not a scientific school or a college. In
the usual college machinery of classes, commencements, etc. may be
dispensed with; that each head of a great department, — say of math-
ematics, or of Language or of Chemistry or of History, etc. shall be as
far as possible free from the interference of other heads of depart-
ments, & shall determine what scholars he will receive & how he will
teach them; that advanced special students be first provided for; that
degrees be given when scholars are ready to be graduated, in one year
or in ten years after their admission.
Veysey has suggested that the individual scholars hired by Gilman to
staff his fledgling university may have actually developed the school's bias
toward research and that Gilman's main function was to erect a facade which
allowed them room to do their work. But Gilman's initial move — whether or
not it was surpassed by his faculty — was to create an institution that
redirected the goal of the American university away from concern with
student character and toward his era's emergent concern for the discovery of
new knowledge. 59
The ideal of pure research received its most complete institutional
articulation, and its largest setback, at Clark University. Another of the new
schools made possible by a windfall of American philanthropy, Clark
provided considerable evidence to support the claim that the only good
philanthropist (aside from being wealthy) was the dead one. Jonas Clark
initially promised the kind of institution which could have firmly enshrined
the research paradigm in American education. Then he managed to sabotage
his own institution by withholding promised funds when it began to live up
to the research ideal. 60
Clark's first president was Granville Stanley Hall (1844—1924). Another
New Englander, Hall did not share affluent origins with White, Gilman or
Eliot. The son of a farmer, Hall was graduated from Williams College with
no special distinction. After toying with entering the ministry, and convers-
ing with Henry Ward Beecher about his suitability for the vocation, Hall set
out for Europe where he studied theology and philosophy. He returned to
Union Seminary in New York where he completed his theological training.
Initial teaching posts at Antioch College and Harvard University preceded
reception of the Ph.D. from Harvard in 1878. Again he travelled to Germany,
this time to study psychology, physiology and physics. After two years of
continental drifting he was hired by Johns Hopkins to create a psychology
laboratory, where he soon held forth as professor of psychology and peda-
58 "Daniel Coit Gilman," Dictionary of American Biography, 7:299-303.
59 Gilman is discussed and quoted in Veysey, The Emergence of the American University,
60 Ibid., p. 166.
176 The Bible and the University
gogy and almost instantly became established as a leader in his field. In 1889
he left Hopkins in order to head Clark University, a school which would, in
his estimation, surpass even Johns Hopkins in its commitment to research. It
was to be an all-graduate institution. 61
Some of Hall's exuberant language about the religion of research was
mentioned in Chapter 1 as an example of his era's intoxication with new
types of education. 62 For people like Hall scholarship simply became "the
highest vocation." But because of constant problems posed by lack of funds,
the school remained small and assumed characteristics of an intimate
community. No attendance was taken, and no exams were given except the
oral doctor's examination. Albeit on a small scale, professors and students
were relatively free to pursue what they pleased: research. 63
A third option for shaping basic university commitments and an alter-
native to the ideals of utility or research was liberal culture. Princeton
University, according to Veysey, struggled to reshape its educational pattern
under the power of this ideal during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson (1856—1924), the son of a Presbyterian parson, came of age in the
south. He studied at home under the tutelage of his father and then went off
to the College of New Jersey where he quickly showed competence in areas
of political science and law. An unsuccessful entry into the field of law was
followed by a graduate program at Johns Hopkins, where Wilson earned his
Ph.D. under the supervision of historian Herbert Baxter Adams. Teaching
posts at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University were followed by an
appointment in 1890 at Princeton as professor of jurisprudence and political
economy. Twelve years later he became Princeton's president. 64
During his eight years as president there, Wilson made a number of
attempts to reshape the school, moving it away from the mental discipline
paradigm and toward the ideal which Veysey has identified as liberal
culture. Distressed by the social divisiveness represented by elite student
"eating clubs," Wilson banished such bastions of exclusiveness and sought
to create a more inclusive social community organized around quadrangles,
where students from a variety of backgrounds lived together in a more
egalitarian manner. Although trained in the research ethos of Johns Hopkins,
Wilson did not, however, become a proponent of the gospel of research.
Instead his institution became "not a place of special but of general
education, not a place where a lad finds a profession, but a place where he
finds himself." To that end Wilson organized a "preceptorial system" of
instruction which allowed small groups of students to experience an alter-
61 "Granville Stanley Hall," Dictionary of American Biography, 8:127-30.
62 See above, pp. 18f.
63 Veysey, The Emergence of the American University, pp. 165-70.
64 "Woodrow Wilson," Dictionary of American Biography, 20:352-68.
Assessing A Vision 177
native form of cohesiveness — one based on academic interests rather than
social distinction. To him the ideal college
should be a community ... a place of close, natural, intimate associ-
ation, not only of the young men who are its pupils and novices in
various lines of study but also of young men with older men ... of
teachers with pupils, outside the classroom as well as inside of it.
This university was to equip students with ideals of "conduct," "truthful
comradeship," "loyalty," "co-operation," and a sense of "esprit de corps" —
a feeling that they were part of a common culture sharing a common service.
Sharing his colleague Arthur F. West's concern about "the provincialization
of learning," Wilson opposed the fragmentation of knowledge. Seeking to
awaken "the whole man," to join "the intellectual and spiritual life," Wilson
wanted both his university and college to share in "a pervading sense of the
unity and unbroken circle of learning." 65
This broadly drawn sketch of several of Harper's presidential colleagues
cannot do justice to the richness of the story of the emergence of the
university, or to Veysey's magisterial telling of it. But a survey of some of the
leading ideas and institutional achievements of even a few of the dominant
educators of the era helps locate Harper within a much larger story than one
focused solely upon his own institution or ideas. The astonishing fact about
Harper is that indeed he did "blend and reconcile" so many of the ideas and
institutional attempts of these various leaders. Like Hall, and to a lesser
extent Gilman, Harper was committed to research. He knew from firsthand
experience what riches could come from specialized study. Like Wilson, he
was concerned about the dangers of specialization and sought comprehen-
siveness. Harper's efforts to create a community of learning in the midst of
his diverse university had obvious parallels to Wilson's communitarian
agenda. Harper shared Eliot's concern for individual student responsibility
in choosing courses but he also sought to balance individualism with an
insistence upon student exposure to certain essential areas of learning.
Harper went beyond Eliot's hope that the university would equip students
for public service with a more comprehensive expectation that the university
should lift individual students, and through them the culture, to a higher life.
But, what Veysey's portrait misses is the integrator Harper used to hold
together various academic ideals and institutional arrangements. Arguing
that Harper represented "charisma without ideology," 66 Veysey has sug-
gested that the University of Chicago was held together by an administrative
structure that initially took shape because of the force of Harper's enthusi-
asm. What the preceding chapters claim, on the other hand, is that Harper
wove his variegated configuration of learning together with a biblical thread,
65 Wilson is discussed and quoted in Veysey, The Emergence of the American University,
pp. 200, 241-47.
66 Ibid., p. 368.
178 The Bible and the University
that in essence he was offering an alternative to those of mental discipline,
utility, research or liberal culture. His religious understanding of the insti-
tution he led was the pivotal integrator, at least for him. Thus his idea of the
role of the modern university included the messianic vocation to suffer over
the nation's great problems, thereby leading students, and through them the
nation, to a fully developed life which would occur only when the students
and the land had developed their full religious potential. Throughout his
career as president, Harper sought to embody such a vision in his efforts to
lead people to the Scriptures, and through them to the higher life. In a
postscript to a letter written in 1895 to President J.M. Taylor of Vassar
College, Harper revealed his sense of the order of his activities. "You
understand that my special business in the world is stirring up people on the
English Bible. The University of Chicago is entirely a second hand matter.''
As late in his life as February 11, 1905, Harper reminded a correspondent
that "all my work is in a very fundamental sense missionary work." 67
Recovery of Harper's fundamental biblical vision makes possible a
reconsideration of his importance in American educational and religious
history. Alongside of the image of the academic entrepreneur who naively
furthered the institutionalization of learning can be placed the portrait of an
individual who attempted to hold together two clashing Americas of the late
nineteenth century. The village Protestantism of the older America, and the
modern pluralism fostered by technology, bureaucracy, immigration and
urbanization, met in his attempts to build a complex configuration of
learning which furthered while transforming the religious and social values
of a passing era. Attempting to evangelize America with a fresh interpreta-
tion of the Scriptures, Harper was a representative of both the new critical
scholarship and the older evangelistic impulse of the Righteous Empire. In
his attempts to make the Bible a source book for the religious development
of all Americans, and in his efforts to promote the modern university as a
messianic agency for the religion of democracy, Harper was carrying on the
tradition of a Christian America, as well as participating in the twentieth-
century search for an inclusive religion for all members of the American
republic. Small town and city, Sunday school and seminar, vicarious suf-
fering and administrative procedure, ancient tradition and modern knowl-
edge all somehow coexisted within the framework of his life and career. The
ironies of being a charismatic leader who furthered on an immense scale
what Max Weber called "the routinization of charisma," 68 a modernist who
used tradition to support his efforts, and a traditionalist who welcomed
modernity to salvage a tradition, make him an important symbol for the era
67 William Rainey Harper to President J.M. Taylor, n.d., Personal Papers, Box 2, Folder
17; William Rainey Harper to Rev. CD. Edwards, February 11, 1905, Personal Papers, Box
7, Folder 19.
68 Max Weber, On Charisma and Institution Building, S.N. Eisenstadt, ed. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1968), pp. 54ff.
Assessing A Vision 179
during which America was fundamentally remade. The concerns that vexed
him, the solutions he offered, the paradoxes and contradictions that were his,
were also those of an age. The fact that his vision, although extraordinarily
ambitious, could not hold together the various strands of American reality
does not render that vision insignificant any more than it does the vision of
a Wilson, an Eliot, a James, or a Dewey — who all strove, like Harper, to
impose coherence and order on an environment which ultimately overcame
Instead Harper emerges as a potential eponym for America's great time
of transition. 69 His quest for coherence, meaning, order, knowledge and
religious understanding is representative of his era's attempts to come to
terms with modernity. At the same time, it is a sign of the ongoing American
burden to find coherence and oneness in the midst of the fragmentation,
pluralism, impersonalism and meaninglessness that were the unexpected
results of America's new professional, technological and urban way of life.
69 The notion of an individual serving as an eponym for an era was developed in William
A. Clebsch, American Religious Thought: A History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1973), p. 7.
Works by William Rainey Harper
"The American Institute of Sacred Literature." The Old and New Testament Student
12 (June 1891):381-82.
"The American Institute of Sacred Literature." The Biblical World 4 (October
"American Institute of Sacred Literature: An Examination on the Gospel of Luke."
The Old and New Testament Student 10 (January 1890):57-58.
"The American Institute of Sacred Literature: Announcements for the Year 1904—5."
The Biblical World 24 (September 1904):228-30.
"American Institute of Sacred Literature: Training Courses for Sunday School
Teachers Under the Direction of the Institute." The Biblical World 23 (June
Amos and Hosea. The International Critical Commentary on the Scriptures of the Old
and New Testaments. Edited by Charles Augustus Briggs, Samuel Rolles
Driver, and Alfred Plummer. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905.
"The Bible and the Common Schools." The Biblical World 20 (October 1902):243-47.
"Bible Study and Religious Interest. The Biblical World 17 (June 1901):403-6.
"Bible Study Versus Theology." The Old and New Testament Student 10 (February
"The College President." The William Rainey Harper Memorial Conference. Edited
by Robert N. Montgomery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938. Pp.
"Constructive Studies in the Literature of Worship in the Old Testament. Study I."
The Biblical World 19 (February 1902): 132-46.
"Constructive Studies in the Literature of Worship in the Old Testament. Study IV.
Part I." The Biblical World 19 (June 1902):443-55.
"Constructive Studies in the Literature of Worship in the Old Testament. Study IV.
Part II." The Biblical World 20 (July 1902):49-57.
"Constructive Studies in the Literature of Worship in the Old Testament. Study IV.
Part III." The Biblical World 2 (August 1902): 134-45.
"Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element in the Old Testament. Part I." The
Biblical World 17 (January 1901):46-54.
"Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element in the Old Testament. Part II." The
Biblical World 17 (January 1901): 121-34.
"Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element in the Old Testament. Part III." The
Biblical World 17 (March 1901):206-20.
"Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element in the Old Testament. Part IV." The
Biblical World 17 (May 1901):366-81.
"Constructive Studies in the Priestly Element in the Old Testament. Part V." The
Biblical World 17 (June 1901): 450-62.
The Bible and the University
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament." The Biblical
World 23 (January 1904): 50-58.
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament: Study II." The
Biblical World 23 (February 1904): 132-41.
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament. Study III."
The Biblical World 23 (March 1904):212-23.
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament. Study VI."
The Biblical World 24 (October 1904):292-300.
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament. Study VII."
The Biblical World 24 (November 1904):361-76.
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament. Study VIII."
The Biblical World 24 (December 1904):448-61.
'Constructive Studies in the Prophetic Element in the Old Testament. Study IX."
The Biblical World 25 (January 1905):52-61.
'The Council of Seventy." The Biblical World 13 (January 1899)47-48.
'The Council of Seventy." The Biblical World 13 (March 1899): 209-10.
'The Deluge in Other Literatures and History." The Biblical World 4 (August
'The Divine Element in the Early Stories of Genesis." The Biblical World 4
The Hebrew Student 1 (April 1882): 11.
The Old Testament Student 5 (April 1886):321-25.
The Old Testament Student 6 (September 1886): 1—4.
The Old Testament Student 6 (October 1886):33— 37.
The Old Testament Student 6 (December 1886): 97-100.
The Old Testament Student 6 (February 1887): 161-63.
The Old Testament Student 6 (March 1887): 193-95.
The Old Testament Student 6 (April 1887): 225-28.
The Old Testament Student 7 (September 1887): 1-4.
The Old Testament Student 7 (October 1887): 37-39.
The Old Testament Student 7 (March 1888):209-11.
The Old Testament Student 7 (June 1888): 305-7.
The Old Testament Student 8 (October 1888)41^4.
The Old Testament Student 8 (October 1888):81-84.
The Old and New Testament Student 8 (January 1889): 161-63.
The Old Testament Student 8 (February 1889):201-6.
The Old Testament Student 8 (April 1889):281-83.
The Old and New Testament Student 9 (August 1889): 65-70.
The Old and New Testament Student 9 (October 1889)493-97.
The Old and New Testament Student 10 (January 1890)4-6.
The Old and New Testament Student 10 (February 1890):65-72.
The Old and New Testament Student 10 (April 1890)493-99.
The Old and New Testament Student 10 (May 1890): 257-64.
The Old and New Testament Student 11 (September 1890)429-33.
The Old and New Testament Student 11 (November 1890):257-61.
The Old and New Testament Student 12 (January 1891)4-6.
The Old and New Testament Student 12 (March 1891): 129-34.
The Old and New Testament Student 12 (April 1891): 193-97.
The Old and New Testament Student 12 (June 1891): 321-26.
The Old and New Testament Student 13 (November 1891):257-63.
The Old and New Testament Student 13 (December 1891):321— 28.
The Old and New Testament Student 14 (February 1892):65-70.
The Old and New Testament Student 15 (July/August 1892): 1-5.
The Old and New Testament Student 16 (September/October
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(January 1893): 1^.
(July 1893): 1-6.
(September 1892): 161-66.
(March 1894): 161-65.
(August 1894) :8 1-86.
(October 1894) :24 1^3.
(April 1895) :24 1^7.
(September 1895): 161-67.
(March 1897): 161-66.
(November 1897) :32 1-26.
(March 1898): 145-50.
(July 1898): 1^.
(September 1898): 145-52.
(March 1899): 145-49.
(March 1901): 163-66.
(September 1901): 163-66.
(September 1903): 163-66.
184 The Bible and the University
"Editorial." The Biblical World 25 (March 1905): 163-68.
"Editorial." The Biblical World 25 (April 1905):243-48.
"Editorial Letter." The Biblical World 14 (August 1899): 83-86.
"Editorial Letter." The Biblical World 14 (September 1899): 147-48.
"Editorial Letter." The Biblical World 15 (May 1900):323-25.
"Editorial Notes." The Hebrew Student 1 (May 1882): 11.
"Editorial Notes." The Hebrew Student 1 (June 1882):51.
"Editorial Notes." The Old Testament Student 4 (November 1884): 134-38.
"Editorial Notes." The Old Testament Student 4 (February 1885): 282-84.
"Editorial Notes." The Old Testament Student 5 (September 1885):37-41.
"Editorial Notes." The Old Testament Student 5 (December 1885): 181— 83.
"Editorial Notes: The Duty of the Theological Seminary in Reference to Bible-
Study." The Old Testament Student 5 (January 1886):234-35.
"The First Hebrew Story of Creation." The Biblical World 3 (January 1894):6-16.
"The Fratricide: The Canaanite Civilization. Genesis IV." The Biblical World 3
"A General Statement." The Hebrew Student 1 (May 1882): 10.
"The Hebrew Stories of the Deluge. Genesis VI-IX." The Biblical World 4 (July
"The Human Element in the Early Stories of Genesis." The Biblical World 4
"The Jews in Babylon." The Biblical World 14 (August 1899): 104-11.
"The Modern Spirit and the New Evangelism." The Biblical World 18 (December
"The Necessity of Biblical Training for Lay Workers." The Biblical World 16
"The New Apologetic— A Forecast." The Biblical World 19 (June 1902):403-9.
"Notes and Opinions: Should the Bible be Taught as Literature in our Public
Schools?" The Biblical World 20 (October 1902):303-5.
"Outline Topics in the History of Old Testament Prophecy: Study II." The Biblical
World 7 (February 1896): 120-29.
"Outline Topics in the History of Old Testament Prophecy: Study III." The Biblical
World 7 (March 1896): 199-206.
"Paradise and the First Sin: Genesis HI." The Biblical World 3 (March 1894): 176-88.
"The Parting of the Ways." The Biblical World 20 (July 1902):3-8.
"A Plan of Bible Study for Sunday Schools." The Old and New Testament Student 11
(October 1890): 198-206.
"Popular Bible Study: Its Significance and Its Lessons." The Biblical World 18
(September 1901): 163-66.
The President's Report, July 1892-July 1902. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
"The Prophetic Element in the Old Testament as Related to Christianity." Unpub-
lished lecture, Personal Papers of William Rainey Harper, Department of
Special Collections, University of Chicago, Box 16, Folder 9.
"The Rational and the Rationalistic Higher Criticism." Chautauqua Assembly Herald
17 (August 4, 1892):2-3, 6-7.
"The Reality and the Simplicity of Jesus." The Biblical World 16 (August
Religion and the Higher Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904.
"Religious Education in the Home." The Biblical World 21 (January 1903):3-6.
"Report of the Principal of Schools of the American Institute of Hebrew." The Old
Testament Student 6 (February 1887): 178-87.
"Report of the Principal of Schools of the American Institute of Hebrew (1888)." The
Old Testament Student 8 (February 1889):224-28.
"The Return of the lews from Exile." The Biblical World 14 (September
"Some General Considerations Relating to Genesis I-XI." The Biblical World 4
(September 1894): 184-201.
"The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men. Genesis VI." The BiblicalWorld3 (June
"The Study of the Bible by College-Students." The Old Testament Student 6 (March
"A Symposium: Shall the Analyzed Pentateuch Be Published in The Old Testament
Student?" The Old Testament Student 7 (June 1888):312-19.
"Teacher Training." The Biblical World 24 (October 1904): 243-47.
"The Teaching Ministry." The Biblical World 15 (March 1900): 164-68.
"A Theory of the Divine and Human Elements in Genesis I-XI." The Biblical World
4 (December 1894):407-20.
The Trend in Higher Education in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
"The University and Religious Education." The Biblical World 24 (November
The University and Democracy. Foreword by Morris Philipson. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1970.
"The Use of Common Sense in Interpretation." The Old Testament Student 5
"Wellhausen's History of Israel." The Old Testament Student 5 (March 1886):318-19.
"Work and Workers." The Biblical World 11 (March 1898):210-214.
"Work and Workers." The Biblical World 13 (May 1899):351-54.
"The Work of Isaiah." The Biblical World 10 (July 1897):48-57.
"Yale Rationalism." The Old and New Testament Student 9 (July 1889):52— 54.
Harper, William Rainey, Ballantine, W.G., Beecher, Willis J., and Burroughs, C.S.
"Inductive Bible Studies." The Old Testament Student 7 (September
Harper, William Rainey and Goodspeed, George S. "The Gospel of John." Study I.
The Old and New Testament Student 12 (January 1891):43-52.
Adams, James Luther. "The Voluntary Principle in the Forming of American
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Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. 2 vols. Garden City,
N.Y.: Image Books, 1975.
Arnold, Charles Harvey. Near the Edge of Battle: A Short History of the Divinity
School and the "Chicago School of Theology." 1866-1966. Chicago: The
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Beck, Kenneth Nathaniel. "The American Institute of Sacred Literature: A Historical
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Beecher, Henry Ward. "The Battle Set in Array." God's New Israel: Religious
186 The Bible and the University
Interpretations of American Destiny. Edited by Conrad Cherry. Englewood
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Beecher, W.T. "Sunday School Lessons for the Third Quarter, 1885." The Old
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Bellah, Robert N. "Civil Religion in America." Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in
a Post-Traditional World. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970. Pp.
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Blake, Lincoln C. "The Concept and Development of Science at The University of
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Bledstein, Burton J. The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the
Development of Higher Education in America. New York: W.W. Norton &
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Boorstin, Daniel J. The Republic of Technology: Reflections on Our Future Commu-
nity. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1978.
Brown, Ira V. "The Higher Criticism Comes to America, 1880-1900." Journal of the
Presbyterian Historical Society 38 (December 1960): 193— 212.
Brown, Jerry Wayne. The Rise of Biblical Criticism in America 1800-1870: The New
England Scholars. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969.
Carter, Paul A. The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age. DeKalb, 111.: Northern Illinois
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"Chautauqua Seventeenth Season (1890) Preliminary Announcement." Chautauqua
University and Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts: Circulars, Announce-
ments, Specimen Lesson Sheets, Specimen Syllabuses, Letter Heads. Vol. 1.
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"Chautauqua Seventeenth Season (1890) Preliminary Announcement No. 2."
Chautauqua University and Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts: Circulars,
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Chicago Press, 1973.
The Cosmopolitan World Atlas. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1978.
Crandall, C. Eugene. "The American Institute of Sacred Literature." The Biblical
World 1 (January 1893): 36-39.
Cremin, Lawrence A. Traditions of American Education. New York: Basic Books,
Cuddihy, John Murray. The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss and the
Jewish Struggle with Modernity. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1974.
Curti, Merle. The Social Ideas of American Educators. Totowa, N.J.: Littlefield,
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Darwin, Charles. The Autobiography. Edited by Nora Barlow. London: Collins, 1958.
Delitzsch, Franz. "The New Criticism." The Hebrew Student 1 (May 1882):6-7.
Dewey, John. A Common Faith. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934.
Diehl, Carl. Americans and German Scholarship, 1770—1870. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1978.
Dreyvesteyn, Kent. "The World's Parliament of Religions." Ph.D. dissertation,
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"Dr. Harper Banqueted." Chautauqua Assembly Herald, 20, no.4 (July 25, 1891):4.
DuBois, W.B. Burghardt. The Souls of Black Folk. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett
Publications, Inc., 1961.
Engle, Gale W. "William Rainey Harper's Conceptions of the Structuring of the
Functions Performed by Educational Institutions." Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford
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Farley, Edward. Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education.
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Goodspeed, Thomas Wakefield. A History of The University of Chicago: The First
Quarter Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.
. William Rainey Harper: First President of The University of Chicago.
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Gould, Joseph E. The Chautauqua Movement: An Episode in the Continuing
American Revolution. Fredonia, N.Y.: State University of New York, 1961.
Hahn, Herbert F. The Old Testament in Modern Research. Expanded edition.
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Handlin, Oscar and Handlin, Mary. The Wealth of the American People. New York:
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Handy, Robert T. A Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities.
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Hoffman, Lars. "William Rainey Harper and the Chicago Fellowship." Ph.D. disser-
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James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature.
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. "The Will to Believe." Pragmatism and Other Essays. Introduced by Joseph
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